When Barbara Cleary of Christie’s International Real Estate was contacted to be the listing agent of Huguette Clark’s 52-acre estate in 2005, she didn’t know much about the home other than it was a “beautiful piece of property.”
Cleary had no idea that its owner was the heiress to a copper baron and worth an estimated $500 million.
And she didn’t know anything about the intrigue surrounding reclusive Clark until a reporter called her in 2010.
“The history isn’t apparent when we’re hired to market the property,” Cleary explained.
Who was Huguette Clark?
Huguette Clark preferred to be unknown. She passed away Tuesday, May 24 at age 104, one of the final links to America’s Gilded Age, and the owner of three extensive properties that have each sat empty for more than 30 years.
Huguette was the daughter of Montana Sen. William Andrews Clark, who made his money in copper mining. He also owned the parcel of land that Las Vegas now sits on. In the early 1900s, W.A. Clark was described as “either the richest or second-richest American, neck and neck with John D. Rockefeller.”
Huguette grew up in opulent surroundings. She, her father and her mother (W.A. Clark’s second wife), and her sister, Andree, lived in a 121-room house at Fifth Avenue and 77th Street in New York City, pictured above. The home cost $7 million to build in 1907, nearly three times the construction cost of Yankee Stadium, which was built in 1922. The interior of the home featured W.A. Clark’s extensive art collection which included: “four art galleries with walls lined in velvet, 225 paintings, a statue of Eve by Rodin and others by Donatello and Canova, collections of antique lace, Greek and Egyptian antiquities, Gothic tapestries, Persian carpets, an Empire Room and a Gothic room, the Louis XV and Louis XVI salons, a circular Marble Hall, and antique bronzes.”
After her father’s death in 1925, the home was sold to a developer, who razed the building and built high-rise apartments. Huguette and her mother moved to 907 Fifth Avenue, into large apartments overlooking Central Park, worth an estimated $100 million. Although Huguette married once, the union lasted less than two years. She never had any children and spent most of her time with her mother. After her mother’s death in 1963, she locked herself in the apartment, painting and tending to her extensive doll collection in solitude.
In the mid ‘80s, Huguette moved out of luxury apartment to a New York hospital room, not from necessity, but due to her desire for exquisite care and privacy.
Huguette Clark’s three estates:
New York City — The Central Park apartment at 907 Fifth Avenue (its floor plan is pictured above) is filled with W.A. Clark’s art collection as well as Huguette’s own extensive collection of antique dolls and her mother’s assortment of rare stringed instruments. The 15,000-square-foot home occupies the entire 8th floor and half of the 12th floor — a whopping 42 rooms in all. Property taxes and building fees add up to $342,000 a year. The building’s staff told MSNBC that they’ve only seen the reclusive owners a few times in 30 years. Huguette preferred to distance herself from others; one of Huguette’s personal attorneys served her for twenty years without ever seeing her face — doing most of the consulting from behind closed doors.
Santa Barbara, CA — In California, Huguette’s Santa Barbara home is called Bellosguardo, or “beautiful view.” This piece of Santa Barbara real estate (pictured above) consumes 23 acres and not surprisingly, it too, sits empty. Caretakers live on the edge of the property, hired to take care of the home’s detailed furnishings, the labyrinth-style rose garden, dining room paneling from Sherwood Forest, and a thatched roof playhouse. Although Huguette was married at this home, she hasn’t returned since her mother’s death in 1963. The property has remained empty and an offer to buy the home for $100 million was rejected.
New Canaan, CT — Her third property, Le Beau Château, is for sale for $24 million (photos in slideshow at top). The 52-acre property was first listed on the New Canaan real estate market for $34 million; the price was dropped this past year.
Real estate agent Cleary said the property has been subdivided into 10 parcels of land, although any potential buyer does not need to go through with the subdivision.
The 9-bedroom, 8-bathroom home was built for former U.S. Sen. David A. Reed of Pennsylvania, who bought the property in December 1936. According to a 1936 article in The New York Times, the home’s unusual features included — besides its 11 fireplaces, wine cellar, trunk room, elevator, and walk-in vault — “a linen chamber, the walls of which bear glass-enclosed shelves; a chamber in the basement for the drying of draperies; air conditioning for the dining and living rooms, and chromium-plated tubes in all bathrooms for drying and warming towels.”
Huguette purchased the property in 1952 and expanded the floor plan, completing another wing. She never stayed in the home, and each of the enormous 22 rooms have remained eerily empty, visited only occasionally by the two caretakers who live on the estate grounds.Whoever purchases the property will have some renovation to do —the home still contains appliances from the 1950s.
Within an hour of New York City, Cleary says the property is highly desirable.
“There have been quite a few qualified people who have considered it seriously,” she said.
But when the home is purchased, it’s unclear who the money would go to now that Huguette has passed away.
Where does her money go now?
After MSNBC published their investigative story into Huguette’s estate and the two men who handle her affairs — Wallace “Wally” Bock, an attorney, and Irving H. Kamsler, an accountant with a felony conviction for child pornography — the state of New York began investigating Huguette’s account. Extended members of the Clark family have filed suit as well, claiming they’ve been barred from visiting Huguette by Bock and Kamsler who contend they were merely fulfilling the eccentric wishes of Huguette herself.
“Ms. Clark has explicitly instructed me on many occasions that she does not want visitors and does not want anyone — including her relatives — to know where she resides,” wrote Bock in a statement.
According to MSNBC, a state grand jury has ordered subpoenas into Huguette’s documents and an assistant district attorney met with her last year. The outcome of the investigation, and where Huguette’s millions end up, won’t be known for months.