She was quiet, shy, weighed 95 pounds soaking wet, and was worth $300 million.
She owned mansions in Connecticut and on Santa Barbara’s East Beach. She owned a 215-acre ranch in California called Rancho Alegre. Her three apartments on 5th Avenue in Manhattan overlooked Central Park. One apartment was the entire top floor of the building.
All properties were staffed and maintained. All were meticulously furnished with antiques, tapestries, dolls, and oil paintings from France. Renoir, Degas and Monet hung amongst art created by the single owner whose teacher was the famous artist, Tadé Styka.
The Santa Barbara mansion that sat atop a mesa overlooking the Pacific was purchased in 1923. The original building did not meet the family’s standards and in 1933 a French Georgian with 27 rooms was built. The estate was called Bellosguardo, meaning beautiful lookout in French.
Behind the mansion sat city property that was bought in 1928. The ugly city lagoon was turned into a bird sanctuary with a beautiful lake and three man-made islands in memory of her older sister who died at the age of 16 in 1919.
A black 1933 Cadillac limousine and a gray-green 1927 Rolls-Royce sat motionless in Bellosguardo’s garage. They were once used to transport the owners from the train station when they debarked from their private Pullman car.
Bellosguardo lawns were pristine. The rose garden was considered the best in California. The last event on the grounds was a quiet garden club meeting in 1961. Inside the music room lay two French harps on their sides and two Steinways covered in silk. The library was floor-to-ceiling books with emphasis on Japanese art and culture. On the corner wall hung a self-portrait of the owner as she looked in her 20s.
The main residence for Madam was the apartment 12W on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park. She stopped visiting Bellosguardo after her mother died in 1963. The following year, she renovated her bedroom to look exactly like her mother’s French décor in 8E.
Author, Bill Dedman, found the “mysterious world of Huguette Clark” in 2009 after house hunting frustration led him to the most expensive property for sale in Connecticut. The grounds keeper told Dedman that the mansion has been unoccupied since it was purchased in 1951. He had never even met the owner.
“Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune,” by Bill Dedman is readable nonfiction that does not make up scenarios. Based on family or court records, the book stays away from imagined conversation and sticks to the facts.
Was the woman who liked to play with dolls of sound mind? It will take reading the last page before readers can decide.
Maggie Moran is director of learning resources for Northwest Community College
Review of Empty Mansions — Young Adult Fiction
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