There’s no place like home. It may be 85 years since the last time a member of the Frick family slept over at their mansion on East 70th, but the house still feels as much like a home as it ever did. Servants, all 27 of them, have been replaced by staff, the cedar room is no longer full of furs, and computers have replaced cots in the upstairs bedrooms. But the paintings – the Vermeers, the Whistlers and the Rembrandts – are still exactly where Mr Frick placed them more than one hundred years ago. And then there are the secret gardens, the heirloom tomatoes and the trees that were thought to be extinct.
From the rooftop looking to the west side the view over Central Park is spectacular. It is the fifth avenue view, the upper east side advantage. But on the other side of the building there is a little alcove above the famous Russell Page garden – the garden that survived the architect’s proposal of being built upon, simply by being so beautiful that people rallied from around the world to protect it. The alcove, a perfect sun trapped ledge accessible only through small forgotten french windows, is the private space of the Frick gardener. Here he grows heirloom tomatoes and herbs and occasionally permits a grateful green-thumb visitor. The tomatoes love the space and thrive, generously contributing to the salads of the staff. Well, mainly the director’s salads. But they do share the view.
On the east side of the garden is a massive Metasequoia, a red wood that was believed to have been extinct for thousands of years. Then during the American occupation of Japan after the second world war, soldiers recognized the conifer and brought seeds back to America in their pockets. One found it’s way to the Frick where it grows with a small abatement. Steel cables connect from the garden to the tree, preventing it from thwacking the building next door when the wind blows. It’s a neighborly courtesy to musical agent Mr Barbis, who not only overlooks the garden but who represents Elton John amongst others. Which goes to show you can always pick your home, but you never know who is going to live next door….