|Born||Huguette Marcelle Clark
June 9, 1906
|Died||May 24, 2011
Beth Israel Medical Center
Manhattan, New York City
|Resting place||Woodlawn Cemetery
The Bronx, New York, United States
|Residence||New York City, New York, United States|
|Known for||Heiress to Clark copper fortune; recluse|
|Spouse(s)||William MacDonald Gower
(m. 1928; div. 1930)
|Parent(s)||William A. Clark
Anna Eugenia La Chapelle
Huguette Marcelle Clark (//; June 9, 1906 – May 24, 2011) was an heiress and philanthropist, who became well known again late in life as a recluse, living in a hospital for more than 20 years while her mansions remained empty. She was the youngest daughter of United States Senator and industrialist William A. Clark. Upon her death at 104 in 2011, Clark left behind a fortune of more than $300 million, most of which was donated to charity after a court fight with her distant relatives. A feature film of her life is planned, based on the bestselling book Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.
Huguette Clark was born on June 9, 1906, in Paris, France. She was the second daughter of William A. Clark, from his second wife, the former Anna Eugenia La Chapelle (1878–1963). Her father was a former U.S. Senator from Montana and businessman involved in mining and railroads. In addition to her older sister, Louise Amelia Andrée Clark (1902–1919), she had five half-siblings from her father's first marriage to Katherine Louise Stauffer:
- Mary Joaquina Clark (1870–1939); married Everett Mallory Culver, Charles Potter Kling, and Marius de Brabant
- Charles Walker Clark (1871–1933); married Katharine Quin Roberts and Cecelia "Celia" Tobin
- Katherine Louise Clark (1875–1974); married Lewis Rutherford Morris
- William Andrews Clark, Jr. (1877–1934); married Mabel Foster and Alice McManus
- Francis Paul Clark (1880–1896)
She was educated at the Spence School in Manhattan. Following the death of her father in 1925, Clark and her mother moved from a mansion at 962 Fifth Avenue, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, to a twelfth-floor apartment nearby at 907 Fifth Avenue. She later purchased the entire eighth floor of the building.
In 1928, she agreed to donate $50,000 (equivalent to $713,000 in today's dollars) to excavate the salt pond and create an artificial freshwater lake across from Bellosguardo ( ), her family's 23-acre (93,000 m2; 9.3 ha) estate on the Pacific Coast in Santa Barbara, California. She stipulated that the facility would be named the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge, after her sister, who had died of meningitis.
Bill Dedman, an NBC News reporter who investigated her life, quoted a cousin of Huguette describing her as "quirky." The daughter of a former staff member described both Clark and her mother as not "odd or strange" but rather "quiet, loving, giving ladies." Over the years, she developed a distrust of outsiders, including her family, because she thought they were after her money. She preferred to conduct all of her conversations in French so that others were unlikely to understand the discussion.
She was a musician and an artist who, in 1929, exhibited seven of her paintings at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, located in Washington, D.C. The last photograph of her to be published during her lifetime was taken in 1928, though later photos are published in the book Empty Mansions. She reportedly had a very small group of friends. Her closest friend and former employee, Suzanne Pierre, died of Alzheimer's disease in February 2011.
Clark owned three apartments at 907 Fifth Avenue, where she lived until her hospitalization. She also owned a 52-acre (210,000 m2; 21 ha) estate in New Canaan, Connecticut, referred to as Le Beau Chateau. After her mother's death in 1963, Clark was the sole owner of the Bellosguardo estate in Santa Barbara.
On August 18, 1928, in Santa Barbara, she married law student William MacDonald Gower, a Princeton University graduate who was a son of one of her father's business associates, William Bleakly Gower. The couple separated in 1929 and divorced in Reno, Nevada, on August 12, 1930.
She died at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City, two weeks short of her 105th birthday. She had been moved a month earlier to an intensive-care unit and later to a room with hospice care. She had been living at Beth Israel under pseudonyms; the latest was Harriet Chase. The room was guarded and she was cared for by part-time private nurses. Her room on the third floor had a card with the fake room number "1B" with the name "Chase" taped over the actual room number. A criminal investigation into the handling of her money was ongoing at the time of her death.
She was entombed on the morning of May 26, 2011, in the family mausoleum in section 85 of Woodlawn Cemetery, located in The Bronx, New York City, before the cemetery gates were open to the public. Her attorney said she had specific instructions that no funeral service or mass be held. In 2008, Clark's representatives had obtained consent from other Clark family members to alter the mausoleum originally commissioned by her father. It was not until early 2011 that the mausoleum was altered to accommodate her entombment.
Controversy in final years
In February 2010, she became the subject of a series of reports by Bill Dedman, an investigative reporter for NBCNews.com. Dedman has co-written a book on Huguette Clark and her family, called Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune (ISBN 0345534522), published in September 2013. A film based on the book was announced in 2014 by writer/director Ryan Murphy.
Dedman found that caretakers at her three residences had not seen her in decades, and that her palatial estates in Santa Barbara and New Canaan, Connecticut, had lain empty throughout that time, although the houses and their extensive grounds were meticulously maintained by their staff. He determined in 2010 that she was in the care of a New York City hospital, and that some of her personal possessions had been quietly sold. Some of the possessions sold include a rare 1709 violin called La Pucelle (or The Virgin) made by Antonio Stradivari, and an 1882 Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting entitled In the Roses.
When Clark left her Fifth Avenue cooperative apartment in an ambulance in 1988, she was frail and had cancerous lesions on her face. Initially, she took up residence at the Upper East Side's Doctor's Hospital to be more comfortable, but was later transferred to Beth Israel Medical Center following the merger of the two hospitals.
In August 2010, the office of the New York County District Attorney (Manhattan) initiated a probe into her affairs managed by her accountant, Irving Kamsler, and her attorney, Wallace Bock. Then a former paralegal for Bock's law firm, Cynthia Garcia, said that Bock received many lavish gifts from Clark, including a $1.5 million gift after the September 11 attacks in 2001, to build a bomb shelter in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank near the homes of his daughters. According to Garcia, Bock tried many times to get Clark to sign a will, including versions that included him as a beneficiary. Bock's spokesperson acknowledged that she had a will. In September 2010, in a one-paragraph ruling, Judge Laura Visitacion-Lewis turned down a request from a grand-half-nephew and two grand-half-nieces – Ian Devine, Carla Hall Friedman and Karine McCall – to appoint an independent guardian to manage Clark's affairs.
Her last will and testament was filed on June 22, 2011, in New York Surrogate's Court. This will was made in 2005 and left seventy-five percent of her estate, about $300 million, to charity. The will provided that her longtime nurse, Hadassah Peri, would receive about $30 million; her goddaughter, Wanda Styka, would receive about $12 million; and the newly created Bellosguardo Foundation would get $8 million. Other employees who managed her residences would receive smaller sums. Her attorney and accountant would receive $500,000 each. A Claude Monet painting, part of his series of 250 oil paintings known as the Water Lilies (Nymphéas), was bequeathed to the Corcoran Museum of Art; she had purchased the 1907 painting from Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1930.
On September 24, 2013, the will was finally settled, with the majority of the distant relatives receiving a total of $34 million. The nurse received nothing and agreed to return $5 million of the earlier $31 million in gifts made to her and her family. The bulk of the substantial remainder went to the arts, including the gift of her estate in Santa Barbara to a new foundation, called the Bellosguardo Foundation.
In October 2011, NBCNews.com had reported that an earlier will was signed six weeks before the second will. This earlier will left Clark's estate to her family.
Theft of artwork
In yet another unusual twist, it was reported by NBCNews.com in March 2012 that shortly after Clark moved to a hospital, a valuable pastel, Danseuse Faisant des Pointes (Dancer Making Pointes), by Edgar Degas, was taken from her Fifth Avenue apartment. The painting was sold to Peter Findlay Gallery and later acquired in 1993 by H&R Block co-founder and art collector Henry W. Bloch. The Peter Findlay Gallery indicated that it acquired the piece from a "European gentleman, seemingly from a good family, who visited New York from time to time" and who claimed to have inherited the work. It was not until 2005 that the FBI made Bloch aware that it was investigating the painting, and in 2007, it told Bloch that the painting had been reported stolen from Clark.
Under an October 2008 deed of gift, Clark agreed to donate the pastel, valued at $10 million, to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, of which Bloch was a major benefactor. After making the gift, Clark made a request that the pastel be lent three times in 25 years to the Corcoran Museum of Art, that it be listed as from an anonymous donor, and that Clark personally receive a full-sized color photograph of the work. The museum kept the matter confidential, acknowledging ownership in a 2012 written exchange with NBCNews.com, which was doing an investigative report on Clark.
Sale of residences and personal items
After her death, seventeen items from her personal jewel collection were auctioned off at Christie's on April 17, 2012. Buyers paid a total of over $20 million for the items, including a rare 9 carat pink diamond by Dreicer & Company that was purchased for over $15.7 million, which included a buyer's premium of 12 percent. The bulk of Clark's extraordinary collection of art and antiquities were consigned to go on the auction block at Christie's in June 2014, over three years after her death.
In July 2012, one of Clark's three 907 Fifth Avenue apartments, the penthouse #12W, sold for a pre-emptive $25.5 million, $1.5 million above the listing price, to Boaz Weinstein, the hedge fund manager and founder of Saba Capital Management, which was the biggest sale of the week according to city records.
The Prime Minister of Qatar attempted to purchase both of Clark's apartments on the eighth floor, which comprised the entire eighth floor, and combine the two into one huge apartment. However, the building's board did not allow it. In November 2012, apartment #8W was sold for $22.5 million to financier Frederick Iseman. The unit was listed for $19 million, but the sale includes a piece of unit #8E, which was later sold in October 2013 for $6.8 million to David Luski, President and Chief Executive Officer at DRA Advisors LLC, after originally being listed for $12 million. In total, the three apartments sold for a combined $54.8 million.
In April 2014, after sitting empty for more than 60 years, Clark's French-style chateau known as "Le Beau Chateau", which sits on 52 wooded acres in New Canaan, Connecticut, was sold to the fashion designer Reed Krakoff and his wife. They purchased the home for the reduced price of $14.3 million.
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Media related to Huguette Clark at Wikimedia Commons