There is a lump in my throat, sadness in my heart. Huguette Clark, who was a part of the fabric my life, died last week at the age of 104.
I walk back in time, through the gates of Bellosguardo, up the road, around the bends, walking the paths, meandering around the gardens. Imagine being the lucky child who lived on an enchanted estate created by two farsighted ladies, mother and daughter, Anna E. and Huguette Clark. I grew up at Bellosguardo, the Clark Estate, from my birth in 1944 until 1960. Who I was, who I have become, was formed by my life there. For me, it was a fairy-tale life. Anna E. and Huguette had not only exquisite taste but a wonderful appreciation for fantasy, which they were able to bring to fruition at the Clark Estate.
It has been said in the last few months that Huguette was solitary and reclusive, but that is not the Huguette Clark I knew. The Clarks sponsored the Paganini Quartet, and held concerts in the music room with its back-to-back Steinway concert grand pianos and harps. There were lawn parties at the tennis court, with a quartet playing in a tree-house platform, and plays in the outdoor theater. It was as if they knew a little girl was coming to live on the estate: an enchanted wonderland with secret gardens, flower gardens, pools, fountains, and Andree’s cottage, a wonderful teahouse. The house is a study in refinement, with its paintings, magnificent library, and beautiful fan room containing glass cases of antique ladies’ fans.
I still have the handwritten notes Huguette gave me with gifts of French dolls, French fairy-tale books (alas, I couldn’t read French), and a wonderful miniature theater, among other beautiful things. Huguette and my mother, Avis Hoelscher, were of the same age and had a fondness for each other. Huguette wanted my mother to have the very best piano for our home on the property, and spent days trying out pianos until she found one that had the quality she wanted. She loved the latest technology and innovations and would buy the newest camera or 16 mm projectors, one for her and one for our family. Bellosguardo had Santa Barbara’s first PBX phone system and an intricate automatic-clock timing system to water the 24-acre property.
When Huguette and Anna E. Clark came out to the estate, Huguette would phone our house and invite me over for afternoon tea. I would walk over with our dogs and sit with Huguette and Anna E. on the terrace under big umbrellas overlooking the great lawns and ocean. I remember having lemonade, tea, and lovely cakes and cookies made by the French chef who came with the ladies from New York.
When the ladies weren’t at the estate, I would go to the main house three or four afternoons a week to visit my father in his offices as the estate manager and to visit Morton (the butler) and Harry Pepper (the night watchman, who taught me botany, biology, and bonsai when we wandered the grounds together). I would play the pianos in the music room and stop by my other favorite rooms, including Huguette’s studio, with its Japanese doll collection.
We also spent a great deal of time staying in the lovely ranch house at Rancho Alegre, which Anna E. Clark donated to the Boy Scouts when she died in 1963.
During the early 1950s, Senator Clark’s great-granddaughter Wags Gray would come to the estate with her family to stay at the beach house for a couple of weeks in the summer. Wags and I would stay in one of the beach cabanas and visit the ranch as well. Wags told me last week after Huguette died that she had learned so many things about her great half-aunt through my eyes.
There were painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and 24 gardeners headed by Mario Pizatti, the head gardener. Recently Mario Pizatti Jr. told me that, during World War II, his father milked the cows that were brought down from Rancho Alegre, near Lake Cachuma, and took the milk to Petan Dairy (with the cow, which still stands atop the tower) on upper Milpas Street, where it was made into rich butter, which was then flown by air to New York City for the Clark ladies to enjoy. I don’t remember the Clark ladies coming to the estate after 1953 or so. By 1960, many of the employees had retired, and the number of workers on the estate had dwindled.
Because I loved the estate as Huguette did, I have always felt that although I hadn’t seen Huguette in many years, she was there in the background of my life. Huguette Clark’s soul lives on in the beautiful Andree Clark Bird Refuge and on Bellosguardo, “beautiful view.” My sense of beauty, style, and grace came from my mother and Huguette, two grand ladies who were delightful, warm, giving, and loving.
I was on the estate several years ago and wanted to walk through the main house again. I wrote a note to Huguette, who gave the order, “Let little Barbara in the house.” I went up to find the shutters all open, chandeliers sparkling, and the front door open for me. I felt Huguette’s presence then as I feel it now.