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cover story

Inside Bellosguardo

Exclusive Look Inside Huguette Clark’s East Beach Estate

photos by Paul Wellman

Upon being offered the first chance of any publication in the world to explore the inside of the late heiress Huguette Clark’s mysterious Bellosguardo estate for the first time in at least a half-century, we jumped at the opportunity, despite a few curious strings attached (like not immediately releasing it on independent.com). One illuminating three-hour tour led by Mayor Helene Schneider later, we present this package of Paul Wellman’s photography, Barney Brantingham’s walking tour, and Charles Donelan’s insightful analysis of what challenges the Bellosguardo Foundation’s newly announced board of trustees will face in making this estate a landmark fit for Santa Barbara.

y HANDCRAFTED, THEN CRATED: Bellosguardo’s intricately carved paneled rooms (pictured above) were removed from the William Andrews Clark mansion on Fifth Avenue and 77th Street and shipped to Santa Barbara after that house was demolished in 1925.

What Will Become of Bellosguardo?

M

ANALYSIS

by Charles Donelan

ayor Helene Schneider greeted us at the front gate, which is only a few steps from the humble path leading to the volleyball courts on East Beach, and just like that we were inside, privileged early visitors to Santa Barbara’s mosttalked-about long-term vacancy: Huguette Clark’s Bellosguardo. The house, a formidable U-shaped structure, sits atop the bluff facing west; the view from its pebbled stone mosaic parking area offers an incredible panorama of the city. Our sneak preview was timed with the announcement of the Bellosguardo Foundation’s board of trustees, the 19 people chosen by the mayor at the request of the New York State Attorney General’s office, which is closing the estate of Clark, who died at age 104 in 2011. Headed by television producer Dick Wolf, the group will supervise the transfer of the property — along with the proceeds from an estate auction and a substantial collection of art, furniture, and valuable dolls — to a charitable foundation formed

at a bequest of Huguette Clark, who wished via her will “to foster and promote the arts.” Given the unusual bequest, and the colorful history of both Huguette and her father, former Montana senator and “Copper King” William Andrews Clark, this project will require bold thinking on the part of Wolf and his team. While several appealing components are already in place, including the spectacular, one-of-a-kind location, the high degree of public curiosity, and some important works of art, key questions about the future of Bellosguardo will have to be answered if adequate funds are to be raised to support the operation. Touring the property in the company of Mayor Schneider, it was easy to feel her excitement about the potential of Bellosguardo. Looking more closely at both the property and its history, it was a little harder to see exactly how this project will coalesce into something that’s both historically plausible and productive of coherent public benefit. october 23, 2014

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An ornate railing frames the cylindrical chandelier lighting this spiral staircase.

Fifth Avenue Comes to East Beach

It makes a strong impression, this empty mansion that is now filled with hundreds of tiny paper tags bearing the name “Christie’s” and coded with identifying lot numbers. “There’s been no period of time when it’s been ignored,” Unlike many of the other great estates nearby, Bellos- asserted a member of the staff involved in the reported guardo looks like what an antiques dealer would call a $40,000-per-month upkeep, neatly sidestepping the fact “married” piece — it’s a New York house sitting on a Santa that there’s been no time since approximately 1963 when Barbara base. Built in the 1930s for the Clarks, the two- it’s been used, either. There’s also been no period when Bellosguardo and its story, poured-concrete structure, with its sober limestone siding and French château pretensions, has little resonance owners paid any significant attention to the culture of the with its Spanish Revival neighbors. This perception is region in which it was built, and in which, for the most magnified inside by the various details transported from part, they did not choose to live. Among the thousands Senator Clark’s Fifth Avenue mansion. The intricately of valuable objects and the dozens of large paintings that carved paneled dining room, for example, radiates the kind adorn the estate’s two wings, I saw none that bore the mark of big-city robber-baron aesthetic one associates with New of having been created in this area. The Clarks may have had good taste, but theirs was not a taste for the cultural York’s Morgan Library or the Frick Collection. products of Southern California. From a Santa Barbara point of view, the mansion might as well be a spaceship loaded with French antiques that crash-landed on our shores. Its primary indigenous expressions are natural ones — the sea eagles, inland hawks, waterbirds, and towhees that nest among the towering cypress trees and a pair of bold foxes that seemed to follow us everywhere as we toured the grounds. Dick Wolf (chair), Stephen Clark, Joshua

Bellosguardo Board of Trustees



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october 23, 2014

Mission Quest

The board of trustees thus faces a challenge in defining the mission of this new public institution. When asked if the estate could be understood and presented as a symbol of Santa Barbara, Mayor Schneider hesitated before offering the observation that Bellosguardo “could only happen here.” She added that the difficult task of raising enough money to bring it up to code and provide public access was also something that “could only happen here,” presumably because of


cover story the extraordinary resources and generosity of our community. The first observation is belied by the house itself. Based strictly on its style and content, this mansion could have happened anywhere that late-19th-century American fortunes were displayed, from Newport, Rhode Island, to Asheville, North Carolina. As such, Bellosguardo stands as an elegant but not particularly chic emblem of late-19th-century American identity in crisis. As the historical benefactor of a 21st-century nonprofit, William Andrews Clark has at least three conspicuous strikes against him. He might be forgiven in a contemporary context for apparently never marrying Anna La Chapelle, but the circumstances of his “rescue” of her from out of the Butte red-light district when she was a 15-year-old girl and he was in his late fifties are somewhat harder to reconcile. Nevertheless, this minor indiscretion pales in comparison to Senator Clark’s twin achievements in politics and industry. Many historians consider his campaigns for the senate to have triggered the 17th Amendment, which took the power of electing United States senators out of the hands of state legislators, after Clark was reputed to have bought every vote in not one but two Montana senatorial elections. Even this would not make Clark unusual in a period, the Gilded Age, defined by such colorful behavior. What does continue to stand out, and to distinguish Clark as an extraordinary American entrepreneur, is the literally incalculable damage his businesses did to the environment. Butte is home to the Berkeley Pit, the country’s largest Superfund site and a deadly pool of toxic waste that still threatens to contaminate groundwater for hundreds of miles around the old copper mines. What kind of museum would be appropriate to memorialize such achievements? Dick Wolf, with his commitment to the environment, extensive experience imagining grand narratives that end with justice being served, and familiarity with the seamy underbelly of New York City, might be just the man to take up this story, which continues to be “ripped from the headlines,” and give it a happy ending. ■

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by Barney Brantingham

here’s nothing remotely like it anywhere else in Santa Barbara:

Huguette Clark’s Bellosguardo mansion sits serenely on an East Beach hilltop, looking just the way it did the day the copper heiress walked out the door forever, six decades ago. Since moving here in 1960, I’d often wondered what lay behind those iron gates on East Cabrillo Boulevard, guarding a lofty mansion so mysterious in juxtaposition to frolicking sunbathers on the sand 60 feet below. Since Huguette and her mother, Anna, decamped from their summer getaway to New York in the early 1950s, few people have been allowed inside. But last Friday, Mayor Helene Schneider gave The Santa Barbara Independent an exclusive tour of the two-story, 27-room home looking out on the Pacific Ocean on one side and city and mountains on the other. Coming up the long, curved driveway, you see Bellosguardo, bright against the sky and clad in light Indiana limestone, dominating a 23.5-acre hilltop. Tall cypresses ring the property, along with lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit trees. Walking in, you notice that, if covers were whipped off the furniture and the rolled-up carpets unfurled, the place would be ready for a party. Before leaving, Clark ordered that her beloved home be kept in “first-class condition” and in “as original condition as possible.” The lights work, but the aged plumbing operates on a septic system and isn’t used. There’s no indoor sprinkler system. Lawns are drought brown.

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to many objects in the house, such as this light fixture. The painting of General John J. Pershing was done by Tade Styka, a well-known portrait artist and one of Huguette Clark’s closest friends.


cover story In the first-floor music room, you almost expect to come upon Anna strumming the gold, custom-made Paris harp that still stands in the huge room and Huguette playing one of her Stradivarius violins. There are two Steinway grand pianos. Anna died in 1963. Although Huguette’s will called for Bellosguardo (“beautiful lookout”) to be devoted to fostering and promoting the arts, her extensive collection of rare paintings remained in her New York City apartment and are being sold off to settle the highly contested $300 million estate. Those left on Bellosguardo’s walls are mostly of Huguette, her older sister Andrée, and their father, copper magnate Senator William Clark. After Andrée died at 16 of spinal meningitis, Huguette donated $50,000 to the city in 1928 to create the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge across East Cabrillo Boulevard as a memorial. In the library, books lining the shelves range from I Was Hitler’s Doctor to French author Voltaire. The white marble fireplace is exquisitely carved, as is the knotty pine wall paneling. A large portrait of Andrée hangs over the mantel, lighted by a huge crystal chandelier. Judging from the paneling in many rooms, it must have taken a small army of craftsmen to create the elegant carvings. The home is comfortable looking but by no means ornate or jammed with furniture. Behind closed doors in the 1904 carriage house, the 1933 Cadillac limo and 1933 Chrysler convertible, apparently not driven for decades, await their fate. Oklahoma oilman William Miller Graham and his wife, Lee, built the first home here, a 25,000-square-foot Italianate villa in 1903. After the Grahams’ divorce, Senator Clark paid Lee $300,000 in 1923. After Clark died in 1925, the year that an earthquake damaged the place, Anna wanted it replaced with a strongly built home with a French-influenced design. She had the place razed in the mid-1930s and paid Santa Barbara architect Reginald Johnson $1 million Depression dollars for a new summer home. Bellosguardo is in city limits but not, as some assume, a city-owned property. What will become of it largely depends on how much money is left after the IRS decides whether to waive $18 million in tax penalties and on decisions by a 19-member board of directors whose names were released this week by Mayor Schneider. (See sidebar of names.) But until the estate is settled in about a year, Bellosguardo will remain pretty much as is, according to Schneider. Resident estate manager John Douglas oversees the property. Since the city has placed the property in historic landmark status, the exterior must remain the same. There cannot be Clark Condos. (Thanks to research by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr., authors of the book Empty Mansions.) ■

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Soon after her arrival in Los Angeles from London in 1934, artist Margaret Dobson painted the walls in the Bellosguardo courtyard, where 80-year-old trees bear citrus fruit next to a reflecting pool.

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Santa Barbara Independent, Inside Bellosguardo  
Santa Barbara Independent, Inside Bellosguardo  

Cover Story: Inside Bellosguardo, The Clark Estate October 23, 2014