The Frick Art Reference Library was founded in 1920 by Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984) as a memorial to her father, the industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). Responding to the interest shown by Henry Clay Frick in learning more about the artists whose works he had purchased, Helen Clay Frick conducted research on her father's behalf. The data and documents that she shared with him would provide the nucleus for the Frick Art Reference Library. After her father's death, Miss Frick founded the Library to further his goals for The Frick Collection: “to encourage and develop the study of the fine arts, and to advance the general knowledge of kindred subjects.” Until her death, Miss Frick was steadfast in her devotion to the Frick Art Reference Library and continued to attend to every detail of its development and management.
From 1920 to 1924 the Library was housed in the bowling alley in the basement of the family residence (now The Frick Collection). For the next decade, it occupied a single-story Indiana limestone structure designed by Thomas Hastings at 6 East 71st Street, the site that had been intended for Frick's sculpture gallery. The Library opened its doors to the public at its present location, formerly 10 and 12 East 71st Street, adjoining the Collection, in 1935. The new structure, which is equivalent to a six-story building, was designed by John Russell Pope, who transformed the residence during the same period as part of an overall project to create two important public institutions dedicated to the study and appreciation of art. It incorporated the latest technologies. The floors were supported by the shelving pillars. There was air-conditioning in the book stacks. A dumbwaiter lift moved books between floors, and there was a Telautograph, an electrical writing system used to communicate written requests for materials. Unusually and farsightedly, there was room for seventy years growth in the collection. The firm of Buttrick, White and Burtis renovated the third floor Reading Room and the sixth floor office spaces in 1996.
Read more on the unique history of the Library.