by Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times
June 23, 2011
When she died last month at 104, Huguette Clark was known as a reclusive heiress, a woman who resided for decades in a New York hospital surrounded by her cherished French dolls.
But when her will was filed Wednesday, the famously private Clark essentially invited the public on a future tour of her bluff-top Santa Barbara estate, where a museum is to be established for her extensive collection of paintings, musical instruments — she owned at least one Stradivarius — and rare books.
Clark had not set foot on the 23-acre property — known as Bellosguardo, for "beautiful view" — in at least 50 years. Perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific and hidden by trees, it was seen only by a live-in caretaker and the workers he hired.
"It is in this beautiful seaside setting, with its formal gardens and grand galleries displaying magnificent artwork not seen for many decades, that Mrs. Clark's passion and inner being will come to life," said James Hurley, a Santa Barbara attorney who handled affairs related to the property.
Clark's holdings are valued at about $400 million. In her apartments at one of New York's swankiest Fifth Avenue buildings, paintings by artists such as Renoir and John Singer Sargent lined the walls. Her artworks include one of Monet's "Water Lilies" series, which is being donated to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.
Clark, the daughter of copper baron William Andrews Clark, outlived her six brothers and sisters. She was married for only two years until a 1930 divorce and had no children.
Last year, several distant relatives unsuccessfully argued in court that she was being exploited by her longtime New York attorney, Wallace Bock, and her accountant, Irving H. Kamsler. They were particularly upset that Kamsler had pleaded guilty to charges of emailing pornography to teenage girls.
On Wednesday, Clark's will, which she signed in 2005, indicated that she had not lost faith in either man. She named them executors of her estate and directed them to establish the Bellosguardo Foundation, an organization that will operate the new museum. They were left $500,000 each.
"We feel that this type of gift is very appropriate in the circumstances," said John D. Dadakis, a New York attorney representing the men, whom he described as Clark's longtime friends and advisors. "Everything in that document is in her voice."
Spurred by news reports, prosecutors in New York started investigating the estate's alleged mismanagement last year.
Clark left her doll collection — and as much as $37 million — to her private duty nurse Hadassah Peri.
Peri spent more time with Clark over the last 20 years than anyone else and "earned the title of 'loyal friend and companion,' " according to a statement from Dadakis' law firm, Holland & Knight.
Dadakis said he understood that some of Clark's relatives were conferring with an attorney for a possible legal challenge. He said settlement of an estate as potentially contentious as Clark's could take several years.
It was also unknown when a museum might open at Bellosguardo. In Santa Barbara, Mayor Helene Schneider called the idea "a crowning jewel in our city's artistic heritage" and said she would offer the city's aid "in making Huguette Clark's wishes become a reality."