Mrs. Clark was the “reluctant” heir to a Western mining, timber and railroad fortune, who died last month in New York at age 104 with no descendants and a personal estate valued at nearly $400 million. The seven-page document, executed in April 2005 and filed today in the Surrogate’s Court for New York County, gives a fresh and revealing voice to a very private woman who long shunned the prominence attached to her wealth.
Although out of the public eye for many decades, Mrs. Clark possessed a large heart as well as a deep devotion to the arts, and great loyalty to the tight circle of people who cared for her and her properties during her later years, as details of her final Will attest.
“We are honored to represent the executors of Mrs. Clark’s estate in the filing of her Will and disposition of her assets,” said John D. Dadakis, the New York Chair of Holland & Knight Private Wealth Services group. “Despite her substantial wealth stemming from the same gilded age that produced the Rockefellers, Astors and Vanderbilts, Huguette Clark lived a remarkably quiet and understated life. Her final Will reflects that modesty, as well as her great generosity and empathy for those who took care of her in her later decades.”
A centerpiece of the Will is Mrs. Clark’s instruction for her 24-acre estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, California, known as Bellosguardo, or “beautiful view.” She directed her executors to establish the Bellosguardo Foundation “for the primary purpose of fostering and promoting the arts.” The Will calls for the conversion of the cliffside estate into a permanent museum to house Mrs. Clark’s extensive collection of fine art, rare books, musical instruments and other exhibition-quality objects. The property includes a grand garden and a 21,000-square foot mansion completed in 1933 – the original residence was torn down during the height of the Depression, in part to provide work for Santa Barbara’s unemployed laborers. The multi-winged residence, designed by legendary Biltmore Hotel architect Reginald Johnson, has been unoccupied for more than a half-century, but Mrs. Clark insisted that the manicured grounds and interior be meticulously maintained throughout her life. The Santa Barbara estate is now estimated to be worth $100 million.
“It is in this beautiful seaside setting, with its formal gardens and grand galleries displaying magnificent artwork not seen for many decades, that Mrs. Clark’s passion and inner being will come to life,” said James Hurley, whose Santa Barbara law firm handled the California affairs of Mrs. Clark and her mother Anna for the past 80 years.
Also reverting to the Bellosguardo Foundation is the substantial artwork housed in the three apartments owned by Mrs. Clark at 907 Fifth Avenue in New York City. The apartment contains dozens of rooms filled with paintings, including masterworks by Renoir, John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase, as well as other artifacts collected by Mrs. Clark during her long life. Mrs. Clark was an accomplished painter and musician and her collection includes more than 50 of her own paintings, as well as numerous musical instruments – including a Stradivarius violin among them.
Mrs. Clark did segregate one major piece from the rest of her holdings – a Claude Monet painting from the artist’s famous “Water Lilies” series. This 1907 canvas was last publicly displayed in 1925 and purchased by Mrs. Clark from the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris – the original acquirer from Monet – in 1930. In her Will, Mrs. Clark bequeaths this unique painting to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The choice was not random. Mrs. Clark’s father William Andrews Clark (1839-1925) – a onetime U.S. Senator from Montana as well as a copper and railroad tycoon who at one point was the largest landowner in Nevada – was also an avid art collector and donated his entire collection to the Corcoran, which named a special wing in his name, “Antiquities to Impressionism.” Perhaps more meaningful, Mrs. Clark had seven of her own paintings exhibited at the Corcoran in the spring of 1929 that contemporaneous news reports indicate drew high praise from critics.
“In keeping with both her attachment to her Santa Barbara residence and her own background as an artist of considerable skill, it is fitting that approximately three-quarters of Mrs. Clark’s estate was designated for charitable purposes, including the establishment of a non-profit arts foundation housed in her beloved Bellosguardo,” Mr. Dadakis said.
Minimal Family Contact, Remaining Gifts go to Caretakers; $1 Million to Hospital
Mrs. Clark’s father – who was 67 when she was born in Paris in 1906, the youngest of his seven children – died when she was only 19. Her older sister Andrée – whom like Huguette, was the product of her father’s second marriage to Anna LaChapelle – died from meningitis in 1919, when Huguette was 13. As The New York Times noted following her divorce in 1930 after a two-year marriage, the proper socialite chose to be known afterward as Mrs. Huguette Clark. “By the late 1930s, Mrs. Clark had disappeared from the society pages,” The Times reported. “Most if not all of her siblings had died; she lived with her mother at 907 Fifth Avenue, painting and playing the harp. Her mother died there in 1963.” The last published photograph of Mrs. Clark is from 1930.
Mrs. Clark’s increasing detachment from society as well as from her former relations over the last half-century is borne out by the instructions in her Will, written when she was 98. “I intentionally make no provision…for any members of my family, whether on my paternal or maternal side, having had minimal contact with them over the years,” she stated. “The persons and institution named herein as beneficiaries of my Estate are the true objects of my bounty.” Among the beneficiaries named in the Will, along with their bequests, are:
• $1 million to Beth Israel Hospital in New York, where Mrs. Clark had been a semi-permanent resident since the early 1990s;
• Cash bequests to a small group of individuals – including her personal physician, former assistant, attorney, accountant, property managers and other staff – who had assisted her in her final years, totaling less than $2 million.
Nurse and Goddaughter Bequests, Famous Doll Collection
As she did with Monet’s “Water Lilies,” Mrs. Clark left special instructions for another prized holding: her large collection of dolls, including many valuable antique ones. Mrs. Clark gifted the entire collection – “including dollhouses and doll clothing” – to her longtime private duty nurse Hadassah Peri. Randomly assigned by an agency to care for the elderly matron starting around 1991, Ms. Peri spent more time with Mrs. Clark over the last two decades than anyone and earned the title of “loyal friend and companion.”
The balance of the estate – after the bequests to the Bellosguardo Foundation and Corcoran Gallery, which account for an estimated 75% of assets, and after the payment of estate taxes – is to be divided between Ms. Peri and Mrs. Clark’s goddaughter, Wanda Styka, whose father, was an artist long associated with the Clark family.
Mrs. Clark’s nominated executors are Mr. Bock, her lawyer for the past 15 years, and Mr. Kamsler, her accountant for the last 30 years. Mr. Bock has been practicing law since 1958 and is a partner at Collier, Halpern, Newberg, Noletti & Bock LLP in New York. Mr. Kamsler has been a certified public accountant since 1973. Messers. Bock and Kamsler worked hand-in-hand with Mrs. Clark on her various legal and economic affairs.
“Given the world we inhabit today, it’s hard for most of us to comprehend the choices Mrs. Clark made to sequester herself from all the trappings of wealth,” said Holland & Knight’s Mr. Dadakis. “The Will we have filed today is consistent with the way she chose to live her life – a person who knew what she owned, who cherished her privacy and intimate kinship, and who knew that this Will would be a statement of her love of the fine arts and her Santa Barbara home, and her attachment to those special people.”
Perhaps the future of the Clark fortune is best anticipated in the brief memoir by Barbara Hoelscher Doran, whose father was the estate manager at Bellosguardo for many years. Ms. Doran grew up on the property and saw a good deal of Mrs. Clark in the 1940s and 50s. “I was on the estate several years ago and wanted to walk through the main house again,” she recounted on May 26 in The Santa Barbara Independent. “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.” With the creation of the Bellosguardo Foundation, generations of art lovers should be able to feel Mrs. Clark’s presence for years to come.