Santa Barbara Leaders Battle an Heiress's Kin Over Her Trove of Masterpieces

Santa Barbara Leaders Battle an Heiress's Kin Over Her Trove of Masterpieces
Huguette Clark's Bellosguardo

In the weeks following her death in May 2011, it looked as though the reclusive 104-year-old Huguette Clark was poised to reshape Santa Barbara with her art legacy. Much to the community’s delight, her lawyers announced that Bellosguardo, Clark’s 24-acre, $100-million oceanfront estate in Santa Barbara, would be transformed into a museum, and that her commanding art collection — including works by Monet, RenoirJohn Singer Sargent, and William Merritt Chase — might soon be made available to the general public.

Members of Clark’s extended family have yet to join the celebration, however, and their reasons are clear: Whereas Clark's final will, in addition to provisions for Bellosguardo’s conversion, allots $34 million to her trusted nurse and nothing to her 19 relatives, a draft signed six weeks earlier leaves the nurse only $5 million and the rest to her family members.

Public officials in Santa Barbara, fearing that the dispute could cause them to lose out on a valuable local treasure, have entered the fray last week by creating a petition in favor of making the property into a museum, hosted on the website “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,” Santa Barbara mayor Helene Schneider told Newshawk, urging local residents to sign.

Meanwhile, members of Clark’s family insist that it was the earlier testament that described her true intentions, regarding the fact that the museum would be run by Clark’s attorney, Wallace Bock, and her accountant, Irving Kamsler, as reason for suspicion. Even before Clark’s death, members of her family alleged that Bock and Kamsler were seeking to take advantage of the aging copper heiress in her weakened state.

An investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office in September 2010 revealed that Bock in particular had been the recipient of lavish gifts in Clark’s final years, including a doll house for his granddaughter worth at least $10,000, as well as a $1.5 million gift for a security system in the community in Israel where members of his family live. In the most recent suit filed by the family, both he and Kamsler are described as “officious interlopers.”