Huguette Clark died in 2011 at the age of 104.
Huguette was the sole heir to a Montana copper baron’s fortune. William Clark had lived large in the Gilded Age in the 19th century. He built the biggest house in America on 5th Avenue at 77th. It had 121 rooms and nothing in town ever equaled it until the Vaderbits beat him by a couple of rooms. Clark’s house cost about $180 million in the coin of today. It was demolished after just 20 years.
After William died Huguette’s mother decided a change of scene was in order so she decided to build one of the world’s notable mansions, naming it Bellosuagro. William had purchased a ranch in Santa Barbara a few years earlier and this was to be their summer residence. The family made two visits to the mansion but Huguette’s sister died and then her mother. Huguette’s brief marriage had failed and she ended up alone—retreating to her four story 5th Ave apartments in NYC. She may have visited the house in 1953 but if so, only once.
The 23-acre estate is perched atop a bluff overlooking the sea and was kept in perfect condition ever since Huguette’s mother built it in 1933. The house was tended by generations of caretakers. There were flowers on the tables and 1930s limousines in the garage all kept at the ready for a possible visit by Huguette.
Huguette was disinclined to come out west or for that matter to go outside at all. For the last 20 years of her life she lived entirely in a simple hospital room in New York. It was small but it had a majestic view of Central Park though the blinds were kept drawn during the day. She had gone in to be treated for serious face cancer and they cured her. She liked it there, so even though she was not ill or even disabled, she preferred to stay in the room. She paid $400,000 for her room each year in addition to having 24 hour nursing.
At the hospital she designed a great many dollhouses using a constant flow of photos and sketches which she marked up and sent back to the maker in Japan where they were constructed. Once completed these models were shipped to one of her several houses including a mansion in Connecticut.
She never saw them in person. The hospital management assumed they would inherit the bulk of her estate but when they found this wasn’t going to happen they moved her to a smaller room with a view of roof top air conditioners.
David Geffen offered Huguette a $100 million for Bellosuagro back in the 90s but she wasn’t interested in selling it, nor her 24 room apartment on 5th Avenue in NYC, nor her Stradivarius violin or her Renoirs and Cézannes.
They found a vast doll collection in the apartment as well as box after box of new—90 year old unused undergarments. Her estate was worth over 300 million when she died. She left the bulk of her estate to charity and 30 million to her personal attendant.
The thing is she wasn’t really crazy. She was just eccentric and actually crafted a fairly interesting life. More on her in an excellent book, Empty Mansions.
The house in Santa Barbara was bequeathed to the City of Santa Barbara to be used as an ‘art’ center. It had been wrapped in controversy for nearly a decade. On receipt of the estate the mayor appointed her boyfriend as trustee with a healthy income from the job which seems to consist of defining what an art center is. People have held parties their but so far they can’t seem to get the joint open.
I think they should make Banksy the trustee. He will figure out what art is.
Picture caption: You can buy an original Banksy lithograph of this for $80k or a print for $19.95 or a video of an original print set on fire for $380k. Your pick.