Perched on a hill overlooking the Pacific, the 23-acre estate known as “Bellosguardo” has an uncertain future since the death of its former owner, and now Santa Barbara movers and shakers are asking that it be preserved according to what they say are the wishes of the heiress who once called it home.
Representatives from the nonprofit, arts and government community gathered on the steps of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on Wednesday to ask the public to support what they believe was heiress Huguette Clark’s last wish: that her assets be placed in a foundation that would support the arts.
Clark, who died in May 2011, was the daughter of copper tycoon William Clark, and the $100 million Santa Barbara property is one of several in the family’s estate.
Clark left behind two wills, signed six weeks apart, former Mayor Sheila Lodge told reporters Wednesday. The first left $5 million to her nurses and the rest of the estate to her distant relatives.
But the more recent will wrote relatives out completely, leaving a larger amount to her nurse, and appointing the rest to the Bellosguardo Foundation that would be established to promote and foster the arts and open her home to the public.
Nineteen grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Clark’s half-brother and half-sisters, almost all of whom didn’t even know her, are contesting that will, Lodge said.
Lodge and others have helped form Friends of Bellosguardo, a group expressing support for Clark’s estate to benefit the public.
She said Clark had been a member at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art from 1949 until the time of her death, and had a passion for the arts.
The pair eventually became pen pals of sorts when Lodge sent a thank-you note to Clark after visiting the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where Clark and her family had donated many works of art.
The pair corresponded, even sending Christmas cards to one another. Lodge said she’d even been able to tour the home when Clark granted the request for her and other city officials to visit.
Mayor Helene Schneider also spoke Wednesday, stressing the importance of the arts to the Santa Barbara community, and said that the group is coming forward now because it’s a pivotal time in the future of the estate.
Clark’s will could go before a probate judge and jury to decide where the assets to go, but is in settlement talks at the moment.
“The alternative is that all of the assets are sold off to the family, and then the home will probably get put on the market and go to the highest bidder,” she said, asking members of the public to add their names to the list of those supporting the idea on the group’s website.
“(Clark) still had a tie to Santa Barbara,” Schneider told Noozhawk.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art director Larry Feinberg said he didn’t know how it would all play out, but that his organization and others “would welcome” a sister foundation like that of Bellosguardo. The Music Academy of the West’s Scott Reed also stood in support Wednesday, as did the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Ron Gallo.
The home is a landmark in the city today, but is not open to the public.
Opening it to the public would present its own set of challenges, like that of parking, “but that’s a great problem to have,” Schneider said. “The first step is to see if it’s possible.”