Dies in New York: Huguette Clark, the mysterious copper heiress and owner of the $100 million-plus Clark Estate on East Beach, died today in New York at 104.
The reclusive Clark, who hasn’t visited her hilltop mansion in at least a half-century, added to her mystery by never giving a clue about what she wished done with the estate on East Cabrillo Boulevard next to the Santa Barbara Cemetery.
Some have speculated that as a longtime art collector, she might create an art gallery there, filled with her collection of valuable paintings. Despite her decades of absence, she has used part of her fortune to maintain the mansion and grounds in top condition.
Meanwhile, according to msnbc.com reporter Bill Dedman, a New York criminal investigation into the questionable handling of her finances continues. After questions were raised last year, an assistant New York DA visited her in the hospital where she spent her last years, a grand jury subpoenaed her financial records, and a forensic accountant is poring over the many years of the records, according to Dedman.
The daughter of Montana copper king Sen. William Andrews Clark, who bought the estate, she inherited one of the great fortunes of the time. She married once, then soon divorced.
The investigation began after it was learned that the elderly woman was making questionable sales of her extremely valuable belongings, including a $23 million Renoir painting and a $6 million Stradivarius violin. “One of her attorneys represented her for 20 years without meeting her face to face, instead talking through a door,” and handling her financial affairs, Dedman said.
Clark’s fortune is estimated at $500 million and due to questions about whether her holdings have been properly handled, a battle is expected. Her distant relatives have questioned how her attorney, Wallace “Wally” Bock and accountant, Irving H. Kamsler, handled the violin and Renoir sales and other transactions.
In addition to the Santa Barbara estate, she owned what is said to be the largest apartment on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, composed of 42 rooms on two floors, worth $100 million, where she hasn’t lived for years, and a New Canaan, Conn., country house she’s never spent a night in, now on the market for $23 million.
The Clark Estate mansion has reportedly been kept fully furnished, paintings on the walls and furniture covered, in case the owner cared to make a sudden visit. She never did after departing in the 1950s.
Bock, who has power of attorney over her financial affairs, asked for and received a $1.5 million donation for security needs, from Clark for the Israel community where his daughter is a settler. Bock denies any wrongdoing, saying that he only carried out her wishes.
Clark would have been 105 in two weeks. Sen. Clark died in 1925 and her mother and sister passed away years ago. She had no children. Distant relatives last year asked that a guardian be appointed for her, pointing out that they had been blocked from seeing her for years. A judge refused.
It could be months or years before the will is cleared and it’s undetermined what will happen to the Clark Estate. Any will filed by attorney Bock is sure to be contested, leading to a court battle over the entire estate, Dedman said.
“If a court invalidated the will, Clark’s estate would flow to her nearest relatives, presumably the dozen or so direct descendants from her father’s first marriage,” he said.