Clark Estate

Paul Wellman

Clark Estate

Mayoral Blitz Over Clark Estate

Movers and Shakers Go to Bat for Bellosguardo Foundation

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
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It was a loud, high-profile stage whisper designed to get the attention of 15 competing teams of attorneys fighting 3,000 miles away over an estate worth an estimated $400 million. Santa Barbara’s current mayor Helene Schneider showed up at a press conference with former mayor (and current planning commissioner) Sheila Lodge to express their mutual concern that Santa Barbara’s interest was getting lost in the very high-octane shuffle over the two wills recluse heiress Huguette Clark wrote within weeks of each other.

In the second will, Clark left her 23-acre Santa Barbara estate that fronts the Pacific Ocean across from the Andree Clark Bird Refuge — named after her older sister — to an entity named the Bellosguardo Foundation, which she stipulated would be dedicated to the promotion of the arts. Backing the two mayors — in spirit if not body — was former mayor and arts advocate Hal Conklin, as well as an impressive array of big monied movers and shakers who’ve donated generously to the arts in Santa Barbara over the years, like Michael and Anne Towbes, Leslie Ridley-Tree, Robert Emmons, and Sarah Miller McCune. Clark died last May at age 104, having spent the last 22 years of her life living in a New York City hospital.

That second will has been challenged in court by about 20 of Clark’s distant relatives, upset that they’d been totally cut out compared to a will she’d written six weeks prior. They’ve argued that Clark — who’d amassed a world-class collection of paintings, not to mention a $3 million collection of dolls — had been unduly influenced by her nurse, her attorney, and her accountant, all of whom she took care of handsomely in the second will. (In the previous will, Clark gave her nurse $5 million and split most of the rest among relatives. In the second, she gave the nurse $30 million, her relatives nothing, and her foundation the rest.) Schneider and Lodge expressed concern that the warring factions, now in settlement talks, might arrive at a deal that ignores Santa Barbara’s legitimate claim on Clark’s generosity. Her Bellosguardo estate — and the collection it holds — would provide Santa Barbara a priceless attraction. “In the 3,000 pages of depositions that have been taken, there’s not one indication that she was not competent,” stated Lodge.

While Clark was famously reclusive — not having visited her Santa Barbara mansion for 50 years — Lodge claims she was one of the few people with whom Clark maintained any personal communication. Those came in the form of Christmas cards that began around 1987 after Lodge — then mayor — helped secure approval for a rock wall revetment along the coast to buttress the estate’s threatened driveway. In exchange for that approval — which had been denied by the city’s Planning Commission — Lodge and the council got Clark’s agreement that the property should be declared a historic landmark. During those deliberations, Lodge and Hal Conklin, got to visit the Clark estate. Lodge described Clark as an amateur artist in her own right, but a world-class collector with painting by the likes of Monet, Renoir, and Sergeant. (Among the many parties challenging Clark’s second will is the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., to which Clark had donated a $25 million Monet painting.)

Many in Santa Barbara’s art world are salivating at the Clark collection and the prospect of opening the estate to the public. The logistics and costs involved, however, will be daunting. Lodge estimated it could cost as much as $1 million a year merely to maintain the premises. Coming together to form the “Friends of the Bellosguardo Foundation” are the mayor and two former mayors plus a bevy of major arts benefactors; to date, however, this group has not hired an attorney, formed a new nonprofit, or taken any legal actions that would secure them a seat at the bargaining table with the other interested parties now duking it out in a New York City courtroom. “We’re trying to make a little noise here,” explained Mayor Schneider. Whether the matter gets litigated or settled, Bellosguardo — valued at $84 million — will remain bound by its historic landmark designation.

Clark was the daughter of Montana robber baron and U.S. Senator William A. Clark, who made his millions in mining, railroads, and politics, a tycoon of such extravagance that he aroused the vituperation of Mark Twain, who reviled him “as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I hate to rock Lodge's world, or the other arts supporters' dreams, but all that matters right now is ascertaining which will is the legal one. A will expresses a decedent's last wishes. This is not about what Santa Barbara wants for the property, it's about what Miss Clark wanted.
It's extremely greedy, self-serving and premature to form a committee now. Let the process play out to see which will prevails, then jump in and make your wishes known to the trustee.

eddiekd (anonymous profile)
November 14, 2012 at 7:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ever heard of marshaling your forces in advance and being prepared? Lodge et al are doing the right thing. Better to be proactive on this one.

chilldrinfthenight (anonymous profile)
November 14, 2012 at 7:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Good for the former and current majors for supporting this great cause. I'm definitely hoping that Bellosguardo will someday be open to the public irrespective of whichever one Madame Clark's wills is upheld. In the meantime, can't someone write a good description of inside Bellosguardo or get permission to get a couple of photographs of a few of the rooms...?

Jeff_1966 (anonymous profile)
November 14, 2012 at 8:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm 100% in favor of the Bellosguardo Foundation being formed in honor of Huguette, who I think after her mother died, led a dreary life. Her relatives, descended from her half sisters, already benefited from Senator Clark's will, in which Huguette and her half sisters received an equal amount. What I don't understand, if her lawyer and accountant were dishonest, why did they keep the first will? Why didn't these relatives' parents or grandparents visit Huguette on Fifth Avenue?

I think a compromise will be reached, so stay in there, Santa Barbara and fight to honor Huguette.

Kattey (anonymous profile)
November 14, 2012 at 8:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Her father was born in 1839 and she died in 2011. That must be some kind of record.

Botany (anonymous profile)
November 14, 2012 at 9:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Whether the foundation is set up has nothing to do with the city of Santa Barbara. Neither will says anything about giving anything to the city. The foundation will own the property located in SB and it will be responsible for running the non-profit art museum if the second will is upheld. The city does not need a committee nor does it need to worry about how much operations will cost. Helene really needs to deal with things that are actually within her job description and leave this one alone.

MSSB (anonymous profile)
November 15, 2012 at 10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Nothing quite as ugly as rampant greed. The estate was not public property and the decision is a legal one, not a political one. The self-righteous sense of entitlement exhibited by some people in this community is truly breathtaking.

And if it were to become some sort of museum I can just hear the local objectionista crying about traffic issues, noise issues, size bulk and scale issues, cost of admission issues, equity of access issues, effects on the pond across the street, etc., etc. enough to make one blow chunks.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2012 at 9:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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