The year 1881 was a significant one for Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). In February, he made his first recorded purchase of a work of art: a wooded landscape by local artist George Hetzel. Then, in the spring, Frick met Adelaide Howard Childs (1859-1931) and they were married on December 15.
After returning from their wedding trip, the Fricks purchased "Homewood," an eleven-room, Italianate-style home located at the corner of Penn and South Homewood avenues in Pittsburgh’s residential East End neighborhood. Pittsburgh architect Andrew Peebles made interior and exterior modifications to the home, which was renamed "Clayton." The home would serve as the family’s primary residence from 1882 to 1905.
The Fricks moved into Clayon early in 1883. Their son, Childs (1883-1965), was born in March. Two years later a daughter, Martha, was born (1885-1891), followed by Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984), and a fourth child, Henry Clay Frick, Jr., who died shortly after birth in 1892.
The Playhouse and Greenhouse
The Playhouse—which now houses the Visitors’ Center and Museum Shop at the Frick Art & Historical Center—was built in 1897, when Childs Frick was 14 and Helen Clay Frick was nine. It was designed by the architectural firm of Alden & Harlow, which at the same time was also constructing a new greenhouse next to the Playhouse and adding additional bathrooms to Clayton.
The Playhouse was a center of activity for the Frick children. Helen played and entertained friends in the drawing room on the first floor, and upstairs a large room, now converted to offices, was used by Childs as a darkroom.
Family photographs show many children gathered at the Playhouse for parties and events. Also, the Clayton Cadets, a military group organized by Childs when he attended nearby Sterrett School, held practice drills on the second floor. There was also a bowling alley on the first floor, part of which can be seen today beneath the floor in the Museum Shop.
Moving to New YorkBy 1905, Henry Clay Frick’s business, social, and artistic interests had shifted from Pittsburgh to New York. The family moved to New York, and spent their first ten years living in a Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue.
While living on Fifth Avenue, the Fricks began building what would become their summer home, Eagle Rock, in Prides Crossing, Massachusetts.
They also began planning their New York residence at 1 East 70th Street, which was designed to accommodate Frick’s large art collection of growing international standing, The Frick residence, today known as The Frick Collection, was opened to the public as a museum in 1935.
Creating a Legacy in PittsburghAlthough the Fricks left Clayton in 1905, the home was never sold. It remained a part of their family life.
In 1908, Helen Clay Frick returned to Pittsburgh and Clayton for her debut into society, although she continued to live in New York for most of her adult life and also spent considerable time traveling the world. She also owned a farmhouse in New York. After Henry Clay Frick’s death in 1919, Helen inherited $38 million dollars, making her America’s richest heiress.
Like her father, Helen Clay Frick was a passionate art collector. To house her growing collection of fine and decorative art, she built The Frick Art Museum, which was opened to the public in 1970.
In 1981, Helen returned to Clayton to live full time, and stayed there until her death in 1984. She left provisions for the family home to be restored and opened to the public. Following a four-year restoration project, Clayton was opened to the public in 1990. Today, the home provides visitors with an intimate glimpse into the life of the Frick family more than a century ago and insight into late-nineteenth-century life in general.
Further Expanding the SiteThe Frick has continued to grow in the years following Clayton’s opening in 1990. In 1994, The Café at the Frick opened on the site.
In 1997, the Frick’s carriage house, in which the family’s personal collection of cars and carriages were kept, was expanded to create the Car and Carriage Museum. The collection provides visitors with a history of Pittsburgh’s role in the automotive industry, along with that of western Pennsylvania’s early auto enthusiasts and manufacturers.