Posts Tagged ‘Frick Museum’

Summoning the servants in the Frick mansion

April 29, 2019

Today, the former Henry Clay Frick mansion on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street is a spectacular art museum featuring Frick’s extensive collection of Old Masters paintings and 19th century decorative arts, among other treasures.

Frick always intended his mansion to become a museum after both he and his wife (bottom right) died—and as he planned, the museum opened to the public in 1935. (Frick died in 1919; his wife, Adelaide Childs Frick, in 1931.)

Since then, the second-floor family rooms where Frick lived with his wife and daughter, Helen (with her father at left in 1910) have been off-limits to the public, and just about all remnants of the family life of this titan of industry have vanished.

But there is one reminder of the private life of the Frick family, and it’s hiding in plain sight in the museum’s West Gallery.

In the middle of the hall, under Turner’s “The Arrival of a Packet-Boat, Evening,” are five small white buttons built into the wood molding of the wall. (Above, center)

The Fricks pressed these buttons to discreetly summon one of the dozens of servants who resided in the home with them. (The servant quarters were on the third floor.) Each button calls a specific servant or part of the house: butler, housekeeper, secretary, valet, and pantry.

Having buttons like these in every main room was probably totally normal among the extraordinarily rich the late 19th or early 20th century.

A typical wealthy household would employ a small army of servants—including a chef, cook, governess, gardener, driver, laundress, an all-purpose “useful man,” and a team of maids all taking care of different parts of the residence.

Next time you’re browsing the Frick, consider the servant buttons a ghostly reminder of the family that made their incredible art collection public. It’s also an emblem of a way of life that vanished when most rich New Yorkers abandoned single-family mansions for apartment house living by the 1920s.

[Top image: portrait by Edmund Charles Tarbell; second photo: courtesy of Caitlin Henningsen and the Frick Collection; fourth image: MCNY 1919 X2010.28.828]

Wooden phone booths tucked away in the city

October 28, 2010

Every once in a while you spot one, usually in the back of an outer borough drugstore or in an old-timey neighborhood pub.

Wherever you are, these relics from an older (and perhaps quieter) city instantly make you feel like you’ve traveled back to J.D. Salinger’s New York, or Mad Men–era Gotham.

A few recent finds include this booth downstairs at the Frick on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street. Too bad the phone itself is missing.

There’s also the wooden booths (separated by an open phone on the wall) near the entrance to the Park Avenue Armory at 66th Street.

These phones do work. And check out the seats! I don’t think they would support the butt size of today’s city residents.

Lost City kept a great running list of wooden phone booth sightings here. Ah, life before the endless chatter brought on by cell phones.

The architect who helped design New York

January 2, 2009

The Frick Museum, Grand Army Plaza, the Forbes building—these are just some of the iconic structures credited to gilded age architectural firm Carrere and Hastings.

carrereportrait

 In 1911, just two months before the opening of the firm’s biggest gig yet—the New York Public Library Building on 42nd Street—architect John Mervin Carrere (pictured at left) was killed in a Manhattan taxi accident.

The day after his funeral, his body lay in state in the rotunda of the almost-finished library, a tribute to a man who helped create and shape the look of 20th century New York City.


 

 

 

carrerestaircase

In 1916, the city dedicated this commemorative staircase in Riverside Park at 99th Street to Carrere. It’s not in the best condition, and the plaque bearing his name is quite modest for someone whose aesthetic vision is stamped all over the city to this day.

carrereplaque