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  • Josh Ramirez

A brief history of the Clark Estate...

The last time heiress Huguette Clark visited her magnificent estate was in 1953, before it was even bequeathed to her upon the death of her mother. (Huguette lived a hermetic existence in New York City, and when asked why she would not return to Santa Barbara, said simply, “I always think of times there with my mother, and it makes me very sad.”)

Huguette’s father, William Andrews Clark, was an early robber baron and later a U.S. senator from Montana, elected in January 1899 but removed the following April “on account of briberies and corrupt practices by his agents” after which he was chosen, in a tricky political maneuver, to fill the appointment of his own vacancy (!).

W.A. Clark stripped Montana — and later, Arizona — of its copper at a time when it was much needed for a new invention called electricity along with transatlantic cables and telephone lines.

Business boomed, especially with the advent of World War I and the need for copper to manufacture weapons.

Clark also founded Las Vegas and a railway line that connected Salt Lake City to Los Angeles via Vegas — with a train on which he kept two luxurious Pullman cars for his private use.

In 1907, The New York Times calculated that W.A. Clark was wealthier than John D. Rockefeller. That same year (if published posthumously), Mark Twain wrote of W.A.: “He is as rotten a human being as can be found under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation … and his proper place was the penitentiary, with a chain and ball on his legs.”

A fabulous book about W.A. Clark, “Empty Mansions,” by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., quotes professor of history Keith Edgerton of Montana State University: “The cumulative sentiment here is that he made a fortune off of the state’s resources in the free-wheeling laissez-faire times of the late 19th century, prostituted the political system with his wealth and power, exploited the working class for his own gain, left an environmental wreck behind and took his millions to other places to benefit a handful of others. And in some ways, the state has never really recovered from it all.”

In 1923, Clark purchased his Santa Barbara property, which he’d been renting as a vacation home, for $300,000 cash and, five years later, Huguette (pronounced “oo-GET”— she was born in Paris), the second daughter of Clark’s second wife, was wedded on its grounds. (Her marriage to William Gower lasted only nine months due to Huguette’s refusal to consummate it.)

Five years later the Italian villa was razed — having been damaged by the earthquake of 1925 — and replaced with a splendorous French-style chateau built with reinforced concrete and 16-inch walls to render it quake-proof — and decorated by Huguette’s mother, Anna LaChapelle Clark.

The Copper King died at age 86 in 1925, leaving an estate of around $200 million (a few billion in today’s money), of which one-fifth went to Huguette.

Today the estate is appraised at $85 million.

It was also Huguette who gifted Santa Barbara $50,000 in 1928 to create the Andree Clark Bird Refuge (in memory of her older sister, who died in 1917 at age 17 from spinal meningitis) on city land across Cabrillo Boulevard from the estate.

Info courtesy of Independent, Photos courtesy of Empty Mansions Book

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