Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Let's Talk About Huguette Clark

There has been much brouhaha and ballyhoo in the press in the last couple of days and months regarding a wealthy and reclusive old woman named Huguette Clark whose story is so riveting that Your Mama can't keep away from the rodeo.

Iffin y'all haven't heard about it, get yerself something to eat and drink and settle in for the long haul.

Until recently, most people had never even heard of the mysterious Huguette Clark and even fewer have actually laid eyes on her, at least not for the last 40 or 50 years. Huguette was born in 1906 to great privilege. At the time of her birth her illustrious father William A. Clark was a United States senator from Montana who had made a vast fortune in railroad cars, copper, cattle, timber, banks, and real estate. At one time, the industrious and entrepreneurial Mister Clark owned the land that is now Las Vegas, NV. That puppies, is why Sin City is located in the county of Clark.

In the late 1880s the wildly wealthy William Clark and his wife Kate built a lavish, 34-room brick Victorian in the bustling and prosperous city of Butte, MT, which at that time was one of the copper mining capitals of the country. Today the Clark's imposing pile is operated as a bed and breakfast called The Copper King Mansion.

In 1893, Mister Clark's first wife died leaving him with four grown children. It's not entirely clear what became of all of Mister Clark's kids from his first marriage but at least one of them, William Andrews Clark, Jr., settled in Southern California. In addition to being a significant collector of Oscar Wilde memorabilia he also founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1919. The younger Mister William Clark went to meet the great conductor in the sky in 1935 and was entombed at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in a large mausoleum that sort of resembles The Parthenon. Other notable names buried in the legendary cemetery include Cecil B. DeMille, Marion Davies, Douglas Fairbanks, Lana Clarkson, the gal killed by Phil Spector, and Virginia Rappe, the young woman Fatty Arbuckle was accused (and acquitted) of killing in 1921.

But we digress. To the shock and astonishment of his friends, colleagues, and the general public, in 1904 Senator William Clark announced that had remarried in France–in 1901–to Anna La Chapelle, a woman younger than his children from his first marriage. Interestingly, no record of a marriage exists and at the time he publicly proclaimed the marriage he also revealed he and his new wife already had a 2 year old daughter. Most people believe the story of the 1901 marriage was a fabrication to cover having a child out of marriage, a potentially damaging situation for the Senator from Montana. Missus Clark née La Chapelle was originally some sort of teenage ward that Mister Clark took under his wing, supported and educated and then, allegedly, married. At the time Senator Clark claimed they were married, he was a still virile 62 and she a nubile 23. Together they had two daughters, first Andrée, who died at 17 years old, and then Huguette.

After his undistinguished single term as a senator came to a close in 1907, Senator Clark, a man every bit as rich as the Rockefellers, moved his young family to New York City where they occupied a mammoth and ostentatiously ornamented Beauxs Arts style mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 77th Street. The train station-sized residential confection stood at least six floors above street level, had an unusual and elaborate scalloped façade, and more than 120 rooms including extensive staff quarters, Turkish baths, a 36-foot high vaulted rotunda, and four art galleries filled with high dollar European paintings by artists like Degas, Titian, van Dyck, Gainsborough, and Rembrandt.

Although neither the second Missus Clark nor her daughters courted publicity like all these so-called socialites so vulgarly do today–can you say Paris Hilton and Tinsley Mortimer?–the press and the public none the less took great interest in the comings and goings of the fabulously wealthy and pampered Huguette Clark. She reportedly attended Miss Spence's School for Girls (now The Spence School), was educated about politics, and was taught interpretive dance by none other than the creator of modern dance, the dee-voon Isadora Duncan herself.

In March of 1925, when Huguette was just 19 years old, Senator Clark died at the family's Fifth Avenue mansion and, after being laid out for viewings in one of the mansion's art filled galleries, was buried along with his first wife Kate and daughter Andrée at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx where he is surrounded in death as in life by high-toned families such as the Woolworths, Macys, and Pulitzers.

William Clark's Fifth Avenue mansion was sold shortly after his death and the architectural bacchanalia was replaced with the far more sedate and quietly elegant 960 Fifth Avenue building designed by Rosario Candela and the Warren & Wetmore firm. The 22-unit limestone faced building is, without question, one of Manhattan's most exclusive co-operative apartment houses and is filled with filthy rich and quietly high profile residents such as philanthropist Patricia Altschul, Latin American media magnate Gustavo Cisneros and his social wife Patty, Edgar Bronfman Sr., billionaire Sid Bass' first ex-wife Anne Bass, Roy Zuckerberg–former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs who bought his apartment in July of 2006 for $16,900,000 from an heir to the Bic pen fortunevelvet king Loic De Kertanguy and his social wife Rebecca, and Emily Frick–widow of Dr. Henry Clay Frick II who died in 2007 and was a member of the steel fortune Fricks –who scooped up a $3,900,000 place at 960 in the fall of 2006 not long after selling their Alpine, NJ estate for a blood curdling $58,000,000.

The Widow Clark reportedly inherited around $2,500,000 as well as Bellosguardo, an ocean front estate in Santa Barbara, CA that Mister Clark had bought only a couple of years before his death. More on that later. The remainder of the Mister Clark's vast fortune–worth around $3,600,000,000 in today's dollars–was divided among Huguette and her four remaining and much older siblings. The children quickly sold off their father's business concerns.

Mister Clark left little of his astronomical riches to charity and his extensive art collection, which was first offered to the Met in New York City who declined the bequest because they weren't so keen on keeping the collection together in a separate gallery named after Mister Clark, went to The Corcoran in Washington D.C.

In 1928 22-year old Huguette married 23-year old bank clerk William Gower. The unlikely lovebirds were wed at Bellosguardo in Santa Barbara and then moved into the same swank apartment building on New York City's Fifth Avenue as Huguette's widowed mother Anna. After two short years the marriage was over and Huguette, her mother and six servants decamped for Reno, NV where they took over the entire floor of a hotel in order to establish residency for a divorce.

According to Ian Devine–Huguette's great-half-nephew through her father's first marriage–after her mother's death in 1963 Huguette all but retreated from any sort of public life. She maintained a small group of friends, advisers and staff over the years according to Mister Devine but has remained a virtual specter for nearly 50 years with the bulk of her business transactions being taken care of by an army of attorneys. It's not really known exactly where Huguette Clark has been living the last 40 or 50 years, particularly since she does not appear to reside in any of the three lavish properties she is known to own.
It's not clear when, Huguette came to be the owner of several apartments at the 12-story, J.E.R. Carpenter designed apartment building at 907 Fifth Avenue (above). However, it's reported she owns the entire 8th floor and a portion of the 12th floor for a combined 42 rooms and more than 15,000 square feet. It's not known if Huguette officially combined the two original simplex apartments on the 8th floor into one prairie sized sprawl of if they remain separate. It's also not clear why Huguette also owns a portion of the 12th floor but Your Mama read somewhere–we can't remember where now–that she uses the 12th floor apartment to house her beloved and extensive dollhouse collection.

Whatever the configuration situation is with Huguette's apartments at 907 Fifth Avenue and although it's reported that one of her attorneys sends a cleaning crew over to dust and vacuum the gigantic apartments once a week, building residents claim they have only seen the recondite Huguette a handful of times over the last 40 years. Of course that does not mean she was not there only that they didn't see her, which wouldn't be so unusual in New York City where apartment dwellers often see neighbors only infrequently and can typically not even identify their neighbors by sight let alone name them.

building photo: Property Shark

In 1952, during the heat of the Cold War, Huguette purchased a secluded 52-acre estate in New Canaan, CT that she named Le Beau Chateau. According to another great-grand-nephew, this one named André Baeyens, Huguette purchased the property as a sanctuary, a "sort of bomb shelter" in case there was a cataclysmic Cold War event or some other reason to get out of Dodge. Despite adding an entire wing to the house, it's been widely reported that not only did Miz Clark never occupy the French-style manor house it has sat completely empty for nearly 60 years. Since purchasing the dignified estate, Huguette has done little in the way of updating the house–did y'all see the kitchen?–but she has for decades paid to have it maintained and paid the $161,000 per year in taxes.
The 12,766 square foot mansion (above) includes 9 bedrooms, 9 poopers, 11 fireplaces, 13 foot ceilings, a ballroom, wine cellar, trunk room, elevator, and a walk in vault. The extensive grounds include pine forests, open meadows, a stream with waterfall, and two identical brick caretaker guest houses, each with 2 bedrooms. The property was hoisted on to the market by Miz Clark's attorney in 2005 with a price tag of $34,000,000 and is currently listed at a hugely reduced but still skin scorching $24,000,000.

listing photos of Le Beau Chateau: Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild

The jewel in the mysterious Miz Clark's real estate crown is Bellosguardo, her ocean front estate in Santa Barbara, CA. The 23.48 acre spread (above) includes a gated drive that swoops and hairpins up to the motor court in front of the stately and somber 21,666 mansion.

In the early 1900s the prime bluff top property was owned by oil baron William Miller Graham and his wife Eleanor who hired noted Santa Barbara architect Francis Wilson to design his family a lavish mansion. Mister Wilson's other major commissions include the Mission-Revival train station in downtown Santa Barbara and along with George Washington Smith the historic Montecito estate known as Las Tejas.

The Graham family's new mansion, which they dubbed Bellosguardo, was an Italian style villa complete with a 58-foot long entrance hall with a white marble floor and a 26-foot wide veranda with views of the mountains and the ocean. The house was surrounded by formal gardens. As the 20th century ticked on W.M. Graham's marriage faltered and his fortune dwindled to nearly nothing. In 1923 Bellosguardo was sold to William Clark for $300,000. Ten years later, The Widow Clark razed the Graham's mansion to make way for the the existing house, designed by architect Reginald Johnson who also designed the the Biltmore Hotel–now a Four Seasons resort–and main post office in Santa Barbara.

Not much is known about the house itself but the massive, multi-winged 2-story mansion wraps around a central courtyard where there is a reflecting pond and according to the tax man includes 9.5 bathrooms.

Although the property has been maintained by caretakers in Miz Clark's employ, the mansion is not believed to be currently occupied and it's unclear if Miz Clark has even visited the estate since 1963 when she all but abandoned the property in the aftermath of her mother's death.*

It's widely rumored and reported that sometime in 2008 or 2009 Miz Clark, through her attorney, rejected an offer for the property of $100,000,000 by an unnamed suitor. Many have speculated–do you hear that children, speck-u-lated which means don't nobody no shit–that the eye popping offer came from Beanie Baby billionaire turned hotelier Ty Warner who already has a massive ocean front compound down the beach and just on the other side of the Santa Barbara Cemetery from Bellosguardo.

aerial photo: Bing

Although it's a bit of a mystery where the secretive Miz Clark has actually been living the last 40 or so years, the 104 year old Miz Clark was recently tracked down at an unnamed New York City hospital where she is reportedly living in an ordinary room and receiving ordinary care from the staff. She is said to be lucid, but she is also, let's be honest children, no spring chicken. According to one of her relatives she has "retreated from the world" and it appears she only communicates when she chooses and only through an attorney. Even her remaining distant relatives are unable to see or speak to the enigmatic centenarian heiress.

What will happen to Huguette's fortune and her real estate holdings after her death remains to be seen. Given that she has no direct heirs it's likely that the bulk of her estate will either be divided amongst charitable organizations or, as feared by some, might be swallowed up by the attorneys and as not yet named or known executors of her vast estate. Given her eccentricities about maintaining major properties that she does not, reportedly, occupy or use, a third plausible option might be that her estates and apartments will be maintained indefinitely and post-humously with large endowments to cover upkeep costs, taxes, maintenance fees, and staff.

Note: With great respect to Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Bill Dedman who researched and penned an exhaustivly thorough photographic article for msnbc.com on Huguette Clark which along with a myriad of other interweb sourced articles we sourced liberally for our own repeating of the story.

*Although there have been dozens of staff members working at the estate over the last 50 years, none of whom have ever publicly stated they've met or even seen Miz Clark, there are those that believe that the almost pathologically reclusive heiress has visted Bellosguardo most summers until at least 2006 but that the tight knit people around her maintain her privacy at her request.

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