For decades, the beautiful Bellosguardo estate has sat majestically on its bluff overlooking Santa Barbara’s East Beach and the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge — closed up and off-limits to all but a handful of visitors.
Things are beginning to change.
The mansion at 1407 E. Cabrillo Blvd. was donated to an arts foundation as part of the late heiress Huguette Clark’s will. Clark, who died in 2011 at age 104, was the daughter of William Clark, a copper tycoon and senator who made his fortune in mining, banking and railroads.
Over the last decades of her life, Clark was increasingly reclusive and hadn’t visited the Santa Barbara estate in more than 50 years.
Like her family’s other properties, including lavish Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City and a home in Connecticut, the Bellosguardo mansion was kept meticulous, ready for a visit at any moment.
The New York Attorney General’s Office is supervising the settlement agreement for the will, which includes forming a Bellosguardo Foundation board of directors to manage the Santa Barbara property and its assets. Clark also gave the foundation her doll collection, valued at $1.7 million, and $4.5 million in cash.
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider is nominating local representatives to the foundation board and other people will be put forward by the Clark family, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and Clark’s Santa Barbara attorney, James Hurley.
“Part of my process is bringing potential board members (to the property) so they can see what it is they would be overseeing,” Schneider said.
On a recent visit to the property with representatives of Christie’s, which is handling the auction of many Clark family treasures from the New York estate, Schneider got to see the music room and hallways with all the artwork and furniture uncovered.
“Everything has these custom-made slip covers over the paintings and furniture, so it looks much more like it’s in storage than in its full glory like you see in the video,” she told Noozhawk, referring to a video tour of the mansion that Christie’s created.
“I’ve been up there a few times and I see something new every time I go.”
The estate was built in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Schneider said the Clark family wanted to keep people employed so extra work and details were added during construction.
“The level of artisanship and craftsmanship done all over the house is apparent, and it’s really above and beyond what you would see in a house construction project,” she said.
Significant funds must be raised by the Bellosguardo Foundation to get the mansion ready for the public, whether it’s run as a museum, art gallery, event venue or something else.
“It’s been fascinating and time-consuming, and exciting and stressful,” Schneider said.
The board will probably be finalized this summer, since everyone is waiting to see how well the auctions go.
Christie’s is accepting sealed bids for a rare violin made by Italian Antonio Stradivari, appraised between $7.5 million and $10 million, and on Wednesday will hold an auction for a collection of artwork, Gilded Age furnishings, rare books and personal effects from the Clark family’s Fifth Avenue home.
Proceeds from the auction are funding different conditions of the settlement, such as payments to family members, the Corcoran Gallery and the Bellosguardo Foundation.
If a Claude Monet painting hadn’t sold last month (which funded a $10 million payment to the Corcoran Gallery), it would have changed how the settlement payments were organized, Schneider said.
“At the end of the day, if everything is done and sold for the amount it was appraised for, then it includes securing the property and the $4.5 million in cash that goes to the foundation, which will help for the first couple years of running it,” she said.
The Cabrillo Boulevard property itself won’t transfer to the board until the will is completely closed and the settlement is complete. There are still negotiations regarding an $18 million penalty fee to the Internal Revenue Service, which the foundation hopes will be waived.