7. Architecturally, the Frick is a Misfit on Fifth Avenue
Or so wrote historian Hilary Ballon in her monograph, Mr. Frick’s Palace. Far from being the conservative and staid mansion many of us see, The Frick is subversive, “purposively estranged from the urban form of Fifth Avenue.” This is a “New York monument that opposes New York,” she writes. Defying the street wall as well as real estate principles of maximum land use, the house is set back 75 feet from Fifth Avenue, “a dramatic departure from that basic precept of New York urbanism, the street wall.” On 71st Street the house has a blind wall with very little relief beyond the corner.
Ballon summarizes that the architect was “able to express potentially conflicting qualifies of grandeur, amplitude, and openness, especially on the outside, and intimacy, domesticity, and comfort within.” In her view the mansion is less New York than Paris, where Hastings was educated in 1880-83. A lifetime Francophile, Hastings designed the mansion as a 17th-century classical hôtel organized around two sequential spaces, a courtyard and a garden on a long rectangular lot. And even though the front garden is a private space belonging to Frick, its exposure on Fifth Avenue had the opposite effect. “The garden was the very public face of the palace,” writes Ballon, “which was an utterly un-New York solution.” And since there’s nothing else remotely like The Frick in New York, one pretty much has to agree.