The Frick residence was constructed in 1914 according to the architectural design of Thomas Hastings of Carrère and Hastings. Its major ground floor rooms (the museum’s galleries today) and the second-floor family living quarters had as their principle views an elevated set-back garden on Fifth Avenue. These rooms also faced Manhattan’s largest public garden, Central Park, located immediately across the street.
Since its initial development, the west-facing garden on Fifth Avenue has featured a grand lawn, limestone steps, neoclassical urns, and Mediterranean-style mosaic paths to set off plantings. In 1935, the Gilded Age residence was expanded and converted into a museum and art history library for the public. The institution’s Board of Trustees hired as its garden designer Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., son of the famous planner of Central Park. He helped shape the space and suggested new plantings, work being undertaken with the approval of the institution’s architect John Russell Pope in the months before the museum opened. In 1939, the Fifth Avenue Garden was enhanced with the addition of three magnolia trees, which today are some of the largest in the New York area and have become a favorite with visitors and locals, who eagerly watch through the spring for signs of blooming.