Friday, June 24, 2011

Huguette's empty homes

Huguette (pronounced hyoo-GETT) Clark (1906-2011) was a reclusive American heiress who died in May. As the last surviving child of U.S. Senator and industrialist William A. Clark (1835-1925), she inherited the fortune he made from copper mining. At the time of her death, Huguette was worth an estimated $400 million. Wary that people were after her wealth, she had shut herself off from her family decades earlier, and became reliant on her employees. Huguette's self-imposed withdrawal resulted in few surviving images of the 104-year-old. She was pictured as a child in 1910 and subsequently, with her sister and father c. 1917, and for the last time in 1930. Another eccentricity was maintaining several properties which she had not visited in more than 50 years - and in one case had not spent a single night.

Le Beau Château
104 Dans Highway
New Canaan, Connecticut
This slate-roofed chateau-style residence (1st, 2nd, and 3rd images) sits 3 stories high on 52 acres at the end of a winding drive. It features a grand staircase, 11 fireplaces, 13' ceilings, large French-style windows and doors, herringbone floors, and 2 separate caretaker cottages. The 12,766 sq. ft. home has 22 rooms, including a music room, a library, and 9 bedrooms and bathrooms, including a master suite with a grand sitting room and entry into an artist’s studio. Huguette paid upkeep and property taxes on the house since purchasing it in 1952. She spent $1.8 million in upgrades and repairs about 10 years ago. In 2005, she put the estate on the market for $34 million. It's now for sale at a reduced rate of $24 million. And yet, as realtor Barbara Cleary intimates, "She never moved in. It's totally empty. [Clark] never put any furniture in it....Very few people have ever seen it."

Santa Barbara, California
Huguette married William Gower at this estate (4th image, as it is now, and 5th image, as it was c. 1920) in 1928, but divorced within 3 years. Bellosguardo had an intricate automatic-clock timing system to water the 24-acre property, including a labyrinthine rose garden. Barbara Hoelscher Doran, who lived in the 21,666 sq. ft. house from 1944-1960 when her father was the estate manager, remembers it as "an enchanted wonderland with secret gardens, flower gardens, pools, fountains, and Andree’s cottage, a wonderful teahouse. The house is a study in refinement, with its paintings, magnificent library, and beautiful fan room containing glass cases of antique ladies’ fans." Although Huguette hadn't visited in 50 years, she bequeathed $275 million - including this $100 million property - to establish and endow an art museum, an idea that Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider called, "a crowning jewel in our city's artistic heritage." The museum will house Huguette's extensive collection of paintings (by Renoir, Monet, John Singer Sargent, and others), musical instruments (including a Stradivarius violin), and rare books.

907 Fifth Ave.
New York, New York
When her father died in 1925, Huguette moved with her mother into 2 large suites in this 48-unit building that was built in 1915 overlooking Central Park (5th image). Huguette occupied the entire 8th floor (10,000 sq. ft.), an apartment that would have included a 40' long living room, 40' long drawing room, library, dining room, kitchen with pantry, 6 bedrooms, 5 1/2 baths, and quarters for a staff of 10. Her mother lived in an apartment that took up half of the 12th floor (5,000 sq. ft.), a suite which typically included a 46' long entrance gallery, a 31' long living room with fireplace, formal dining room with fireplace, 4 or 5 bedrooms, small library, a kitchen with a large butlers pantry, and quarters for a staff of 3. Another apartment in the building - with the closest layout to Mrs. Clark's room (floor plans here) - is on the market for $14.5 million. Huguette stayed on after her mother died in 1963, but did not go out in public, being cared for by 2 personal assistants. She continued to pay her share of taxes and upkeep (lately $28,500 a month, or $342,000 a year) on the building (a coop since 1955) even after she relocated in 1989 to Doctors' Hospital, and later Beth Israel Hospital. The 42-room residence on 5th Avenue was regularly dusted, but remained unoccupied for the next 22 years. Huguette - frail but not physically ill - remained secluded in a private room with her dolls and daily visits from her private duty nurse until her death.

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