Jun 23, 2011 2:33 AM by Nancy Chen

Huguette Clark mansion in Santa Barbara to turn into museum

She lived her life secluded, but in death, Huguette Clark is sharing much of what she left behind, including her Santa Barbara mansion.

Clark's final will and testament revealed today what's to become of the property: the estate--named Bellesguardo or "beautiful view" in Italian--will be turned into a permanent museum.

Clark died back in May at the age of 104.

She was the heiress to a copper fortune, but for the last few decades, any other details surrounding Clark were largely a mystery.

She owned several pieces of prime real estate, including an ocean-front mansion in Santa Barbara valued at $100 million that has been a source of local speculation for years.

"I actually have wondered on many occasions like who lives there and why aren't they around?" said Susie Hoke, a Santa Barbara resident. "I've lived here for the last 20 years, but I haven't heard any big stories about her or anything."

For scores of local joggers and beachgoers, the mansion behind the gates just off of Cabrillo Boulveard has been a mystery for decades.

"(I have) always, for the last 20, 30 years, been curious about that place," said Nancy Black, another Santa Barbara resident. "And it's always been very closed, private property. Seemed like such a pity that no one was really getting to enjoy it."

Despite being a palatial estate right next to the water, almost no one has gone beyond the gates at Bellosguardo in decades, including the heiress herself. Clark hadn't visited since 1963, the year her mother died.

But despite being unoccupied for more than half a century, the heiress insisted both the inside and outside be kept in mint condition.

The 24-acre estate, estimated to be worth $100 million dollars, was just one of three she owned.

Clark also had a 42-room apartment in Manhattan, reportedly the single-largest apartment on Fifth Avenue, and a 52-acre estate in Connecticut.

But this one in Santa Barbara will be the center of her foundation, created for the arts.

Clark grew up there, and it includes a 21,000 square-foot mansion.

And while it hasn't housed anyone in the past few decades, it will soon be home to her rare books, musical instruments, and extensive art collection, which includes works by Renoir.

Black said she was initially surprised Clark was donating such a large amount of her fortune.

"You know, I mean, Leona Helmsley gave her fortune to a dog," she said.

However, one of Clark's artworks is being held back from the museum--a Monet painting from his famous "Water Lilies" series; it'll instead go to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.

That piece of art and her new foundation come to about 75 percent of her assets.

Clark divided up the rest of her $400 million estate between her nurse and god daughter.

Other beneficiaries of her will include the Beth Israel Hospital in New York and a "small group of individuals" who included her personal physician, former assistant and attorney.

In the will, Clark says she intentionally gave no provisions for any members of her family; she had no descendants.

There is no word yet on when the museum would open.

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