Collection ID: TFC.0400.010

Collection context


Frick Collection.
The Frick Collection's alphabetical subject files, 1932-1936, document the conversion of the New York residence of Henry Clay Frick to The Frick Collection, a public art museum, and the construction of a new Frick Art Reference Library building. Correspondence, internal memorandums, minutes, reports, clippings, inventories, and contracts detail the work of Organizing Director Frederick Mortimer Clapp; architect John Russell Pope; general contractor Marc Eidlitz; and Frick Collection Trustees, including Helen Clay Frick, Childs Frick and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
24.5 Linear feet and (44 boxes, oversize material)
Preferred citation:

The Frick Collection Central Files, 1932-1936. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.


Scope and Content:

The records of The Frick Collection Central Files, 1932-1936 document all aspects of the process of converting the Frick residence into a museum, as well as the construction of a new building for the Frick Art Reference Library. In addition, the files of 1936 document the first complete year of the Collection's operation. Types of records include correspondence, internal memorandums, minutes, reports, newspaper clippings, periodical articles, commercial brochures, inventories and lists, contracts, and decorative samples. The records date from 1930-1937, with the bulk dating from 1932-1936, and with only a few printed items from 1926.

The decision-making process and the actions taken in converting the Frick residence into a museum and constructing a new building for the Frick Art Reference Library are documented in the files. Topics covered include the hiring of Frederick Mortimer Clapp as an adviser; the selection of John Russell Pope as the architect; details related to the design, construction and selection of materials for both the Collection and the Library; the interior decoration of the rooms; and the rehanging of the art. In addition, matters related to finances, insurance, public relations, security, salvage of materials, and the publication of a small catalogue are all also documented.

The Reports of the Organizing Director to the Board of Trustees provide the best summary overviews of the project. Reports and weekly meeting minutes of the Committee on Organization and Policy, the files and weekly meeting minutes of architect John Russell Pope, Memoranda on Plans and the files of general contractor Marc Eidlitz & Co. provide details of every action taken. Information on specific subjects, although discussed in minutes and reports, are most easily accessed in the individual subject files, when available.

Insight into the working relationships of Frederick Mortimer Clapp and the Board members can be found in summaries of the meetings and telephone conversations of Mr. Clapp with Helen Clay Frick, Childs Frick, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Walker D. Hines, as every aspect of the design and construction of The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library was debated.

The files also deal with the daily administrative workings of the Collection, containing solicitations from vendors, employee records, and requests for admission. Primary correspondents are Frederick Mortimer Clapp, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Walker D. Hines, Childs Frick, Helen Clay Frick, John Russell Pope, L.W. Eisinger, Marc Eidlitz and John Henry Hammond, The Frick Collection Counsel. While the files do contain correspondence with John Russell Pope, letters and memos most often came from others working in his firm, such as Daniel P. Higgins and Charles G. Anderson.

The Central Files are a system of yearly alphabetical subject files begun in 1932 and maintained until 1985. Some active files were carried over from year to year, so that all of the files on one subject from 1932-1935 might be stored in 1935. Folder titles used in the finding aid were taken from the original folders; explanatory information related to the title or contents can be found in brackets next to the folder title or in the folder notes.

Oversize items were placed at the end of the collection in appropriate housing; blueprints and drawings too large for archival boxes have been removed to separate storage in flat files. Some materials have been transferred to The Frick Collection Architectural Records, Art and Furnishings Files, Concert Records, Lecture Records or Photographs.

Biographical / Historical:

The Frick Collection was founded by Pittsburgh industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), who bequeathed his New York residence and art collection as a public art gallery. The Collection opened to the public on December 16, 1935.

Mr. Frick's will called for the incorporation of The Frick Collection "for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a gallery of art, "encouraging and developing the study of fine arts, and advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects." Named in the will was a Board of Trustees composed of Mr. Frick's wife, Adelaide Frick; his children, Childs Frick and Helen Clay Frick; George F. Baker, Jr.; J. Horace Harding; Walker D. Hines; Lewis Cass Ledyard; John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; and Horace Havemeyer. The will provided an endowment of $15 million, the income of which was to be used for the preservation, maintenance and security of the residence and art collection, the "making of any alterations, improvements, additions or betterments" to the building, and the purchase of suitable works of art.

The Frick Collection was incorporated on April 27, 1920, following Mr. Frick's death on December 2, 1919. According to the terms of the will, the Frick residence, located at One East 70th Street, was to remain the home of Mr. Frick's wife Adelaide during her lifetime.

After Mrs. Frick's death on October 4, 1931, the Trustees created a Committee on Organization and Policy ("the Committee") to begin the process of converting the Frick residence into a museum. The Trustees were in general agreement that the residential character of the building should be maintained, and that alterations made to the existing structure should be limited to those required for administrative purposes or those necessary for the building to function successfully as a museum. Committee members Walker D. Hines (Chairman), Childs Frick and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. appointed Frederick Mortimer Clapp adviser to the Committee and asked him to prepare a report on opening The Frick Collection to the public. Mr. Clapp, Head of the Department of Fine Arts of the University of Pittsburgh, was known to the Trustees from his ongoing work on The Frick Collection catalogue, a project commissioned by Helen Clay Frick in 1928.

After reviewing blueprints with Thomas Blake, formerly of Carrè€re & Hastings, the architectural firm that designed the Frick residence, Mr. Clapp submitted his report to the Committee on December 18, 1931. The Committee made some early decisions about the museum: public space in the building should be concentrated on the ground floor, with the second floor to be restricted to administrative and possibly educational uses, and an auditorium and another gallery should be constructed.

Architects William Adams Delano of Delano & Aldrich and John Russell Pope were contracted to prepare sketch plans for the renovation and additions to the residence. In early January, 1932, both architects presented their plans to the Committee. In reviewing the plans, the Committee realized that it was an opportune time to address the Frick Art Reference Library's space problem and to carry out the two construction projects simultaneously.

Founded in 1920 by Helen Clay Frick, the Library, first housed in the bowling alley of the Frick residence, moved to a three-story building designed by Carrè€re & Hastings in 1924. The building, located at Six East 71st Street on a site belonging to the Collection, was considered an extension of the Frick residence and was paid for by the Collection, albeit with significant contributions by Miss Frick, who administered the Library independently with her own funds. By 1932, the building was already filled to capacity with the Library's collections of photographs, books and periodicals, with no room for future expansion.

Discussions of the ideas presented by the architects led the Committee to other tentative decisions concerning the construction. Details of the Garden Court and an oval-shaped gallery began to emerge, along with the placement of the Boucher Room, Mrs. Frick's Boudoir, on the ground level. The auditorium, or Lecture Room, was originally planned for the second floor, near a connecting passage between the Frick Art Reference Library and the Collection, but revisions later that year placed the Lecture Room and the connection to the Library on the first floor instead.

On March 31, 1932, the Committee presented its report to the Board of Trustees, recommending "the preservation, as far as possible, of the ground floor of the house in its present form as a unique example of a great collection in a beautiful and intimate setting." In addition to the conversion of the second floor, a Lecture Room, and the enlargement of the Frick Art Reference Library, the report called for an entrance on 70th Street, a one-story colonnaded and glassed-over Garden Court, a Reception Hall, a new oval gallery, a Boucher Room and a Barbizon School Room, and the configuration of the organ so that its sound could be channeled into the Garden Court. The Barbizon School Room would later be eliminated from the plans to create space for a cloak room.

On April 15, 1932 John Russell Pope was unanimously selected as the architect by the Committee. Marc Eidlitz & Son was chosen as the general contractor, based on the recommendation of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and the firm of Syska & Hennessey was contracted as consulting engineers.

In January, 1933, Frederick Mortimer Clapp accepted the change of his position title to Organizing Director, a title he had previously refused, preferring to remain an adviser until the plans for The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library were largely decided upon.

The safekeeping of the art collection, furniture, draperies and rugs during the construction phase was of primary concern. Although the possibility of storing the works in an outside warehouse was examined, it was decided in January, 1933 to construct a vault in the basement of the Collection.

By January, 1933, the Committee was ready to purchase and demolish two properties, 10-12 East 71st Street, located next to the original Library building. While the possibility of adding stories onto the original building was initially considered (and the City had approved the foundation for the addition of a single story), structural and aesthetic concerns quickly led the Committee to search for a new location for the Library. In addition, the site of the original Library was desirable for the expansion of the Collection, and it ultimately became the site of the East Gallery and Lecture Room. Other buildings in the near vicinity, including one on the north side of 71st Street across from the Collection, were examined as possible sites for the Library before the decision was made to construct a completely new Library building next to the original.

With the addition of a new plan for a 13-story Frick Art Reference Library, the Building Committee of the Board of Trustees voted to approve the construction plans, as well as the estimated cost in April, 1933. On June 19, 1933, L.W. Eisinger was hired as Clerk of the Works to supervise the execution of the building plans and fill in to some capacity during any absences of Organizing Director Frederick Mortimer Clapp. Mr. Eisinger was later replaced by I.D. Matthew in December, 1934, due to health reasons.

Other matters that the Committee discussed throughout the construction process concerned the Collection and Library's tax exempt status, insurance, the air conditioning system for both buildings, and the publication of a small catalogue of The Frick Collection. The construction of the basement vault was completed on June 21, 1933. The furniture was moved into the vault on June 22, and paintings, sculpture and porcelain were moved June 28-30. Furniture, draperies and rugs that did not fit in the vault were wrapped and stored in rooms on the third floor.

On June 26, demolition of the buildings located at 10-12 East 71st Street, the site of the new Library, began. The organ, located in a niche at the bottom of the main staircase, was dismantled and stored in the Dining Room on August 18, 1933. Excavation work began at the site on August 22, foundation work on September 29, and stone work on November 27.

Also demolished was the site of the former office of Mr. Frick to make room for the Oval Room. On November 27, 1933, excavation began on the Garden Court, but unexpected foundation and shoring problems caused delays in the construction. The shoring of the east wall of the house differed from the original blueprints and required the design of additional methods of support. Alterations to the second and third floor of the Collection were also being made during this time.

Trustee and Committee Chairman Walker D. Hines died on January 14, 1934. He was replaced on the Board of Trustees by Maitland Griggs. Other changes to the Board of Trustees named in Mr. Frick's will occurred prior to the opening of The Frick Collection: Trustees J. Horace Harding died in 1928 and Lewis Cass Ledyard died in 1932. They were replaced on the Board by Andrew W. Mellon and Junius S. Morgan.

The new Library was completed and ready for occupancy in November, 1934. Books, photographs, furniture and staff were transferred to the new building over the course of five days, via an opening in the wall between the old and new buildings. Demolition of the old Library building began on December 3, 1934, and construction of the East Gallery and Lecture Room began. The new Frick Art Reference Library building opened to the public on January 14, 1935.

After the construction of the Collection was completed, interior work began on wall coverings, painting, woodwork, gilding, and ceiling decoration. The Trustees took possession of the Collection building from the general contractors on September 30, 1935. Work still remaining included the final cleaning and installation of the furniture and artworks, the design and installation of a lighting system for the paintings and enamel cases, the planting of the Garden Court, completion of the organ, the creation of a ticket office, and security matters, among other numerous details. Moving the art objects from the basement vault into the Collection was begun on October 1 and completed on December 5, 1935.

The opening of The Frick Collection was held on December 11, 1935 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eighteen hundred guests were invited, and between 700 and 800 attended. The Frick Collection opened to the public on December 16, 1935.

In 1936 Frederick Mortimer Clapp became the Director of The Frick Collection, a position that he held until his retirement in 1951.

Processing information:

Arranged and described by Susan Chore, February 2002, with funding from a Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation Grant, 2001.


Files are arranged chronologically by year and alphabetically by subject within each year.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard



These records are open for research under the conditions of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives access policy. Contact the Archives Department for further information at


The Frick Collection Central Files, 1932-1936. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.

10 E 71st St
New York, NY 10021, United States
(212) 547-0641