Sue De Lapa

FOSTERING THE ARTS: You say you want to be in charge of a 27-room, nearly 22,000-square-foot mansion with 23.5 acres of breathtaking views of Santa Barbara, ocean, and mountains?

But not have to pay the taxes out of your own pocket or do the dusting?

Just you and a few others sitting around, figuring out what to do with the place and how to “foster the arts.”

You probably won’t be able to live there, and you won’t get paid, but what the heck? All eyes will be on you and about $85 million worth of real estate.

Barney Brantingham

If this appeals to you, the line is forming. I’m talking, of course, of Bellosguardo (“beautiful lookout”), the late copper heiress Huguette (oo·get) Clark’s French-style estate on an East Cabrillo Boulevard mesa adjoining (yes) the Santa Barbara Cemetery.

Always generous, Huguette donated the money in 1928 to create the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge across the street, named for her late sister. Her mother, Anna, fearing invasion after a Japanese sub shelled Ellwood in 1942, bought the 215-acre Rancho Alegre in the Santa Ynez Valley. Later, it was donated to the Boy Scouts.

Clark willed the formation of an arts foundation at Bellosguardo, but it took some gnarly recent negotiations in New York to make it happen. (As of now, according to Bill Dedman, NBC News investigative reporter, much depends on the IRS waiving $16 million to $18 million in Clark’s neglected gift taxes. But there seems to be optimism that the IRS’s cold heart will warm enough to help create the charity.)

Here’s the deal: The 10-member Bellosguardo Foundation’s board will start off this way: Seven people will be nominated by Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider; one by Clark’s longtime Santa Barbara attorney, James Hurley; one by Clark’s distant (and I mean distant) relatives; and one by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a Clark family favorite also involved in the negotiations over her will.

The New York attorney general, who quarterbacked negotiations, will decide who makes the team. Terms are three years.

At this writing, I’m not aware of any nominations. Mayor Schneider says, “In the coming weeks, I will establish a working group to assist me in determining these seven nominees.”

The goal, she told Dedman, “is to open the Bellosguardo house and gardens to the public as a center that will foster and promote the arts.” That sounds pretty vague, but go ahead; foster away.

So far, no one is calling it a museum. It does contain some paintings, including family portraits. Clark’s own artwork will come west from her New York property, but all her fine-art collection will be sold to make the settlement work.

The 19 relatives, most of whom never met her, sued to overturn the 2005 will and came out of the negotiations with $34.5 million. Clark’s beloved doll collection, valued at $1.7 million, will also be shipped west to Bellosguardo. One decision the new board may consider is whether it properly fits in with a fine-arts foundation or should be sold to finance more arty activities.

The settlement included $4.5 million for Bellosguardo, but one wonders how long that will last in view of the need to upgrade an aging asset (some of the toilets sport signs reading “Do Not Flush.”)

According to the recently published book Empty Mansions (Ballantine Books) by Dedman and Huguette’s cousin Paul Clark Newell Jr., the building’s architectural style is late-18th-century French with Georgian influences, with 13 chimneys. It was designed by famed Reginald Johnson, who had just finished the Biltmore.

The home features a grand circular stairway with elaborate railings made of copper (of course). Huguette never visited Bellosguardo after the early 1950s and died in New York in 2011.

If you, as a boardmember, hold receptions or tea parties, the largest space would be the music room, 46 feet by 23.

Huguette turned down the shah of Iran when he wanted to buy Bellosguardo before fleeing the Islamic Revolution in 1979, according to Empty Mansions. She rejected Hollywood billionaire Marvin Davis when he offered $30 million to $40 million in 1989. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art approached her in 1991 and 2004 to donate the place, to no avail. She considered leaving it to the Music Academy of the West but decided against it, according to the authors.

If you’re really serious about being named to the board, you should take a history lesson with the well-researched Empty Mansions. Or hear its authors speak when they visit the S.B. Historical Museum on October 6 and 7.


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