The California Mansion That Lay Hidden For Six Decades
It sounds like the dream investment—a massive, 22,000-square-foot villa with a sea view on the cliffs. But this Californian mansion was not home to a wealthy trader or celebrity—it was only occasionally the stuff of rumor.
1407 East Cabrillo Boulevard was dark for over six decades. In all that time, nobody came in, and nobody went out. The estate has been shrouded in mystery—until now.
Naturally, with such a pearl on the landscape going to waste for so long, nearby residents began to speculate whether the house was really abandoned. Could it have been a private institution? A front for a secret testing facility?
Although its many fences, iron-wrought gates, and hedges obscured the view, the house held a history of opulence and tragedy in equal measure. Here’s a sign from one of the entryways. “Bellosguardo.” And could this offer a clue to its true purpose?
A View Of The Billion-Dollar Home
The name “Bellosguardo” is Italian, though those of you with a keen eye for architecture may notice that the building doesn’t quite fit an Italian mold. The estate is named after the grand villa that originally stood where the central building now stands.
Bellosguardo was purchased in 1923 by William A. Clark, the senator of Montana and notorious copper and rail magnate. Clark paid $300,000 for the magnificent cliffside estate, about $4,000,000 in today’s money.
The Senator And Copper Magnate
While starting out as a trader, William Clark gained his wealth after becoming a banker. He made his money by repossessing mining properties when they could no longer afford them. As a result, his business became intertwined with the mining industry.
Like many magnates of his time, he also entered politics, becoming the senator of Montana in 1899. However, his campaign was highly criticized due to his use of bribery. The 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution was created as a result.
A Tragedy Underfoot
Two tragedies befell the Clark clan in 1925 that prevented them from enjoying their new home: first, the Santa Barbara earthquake ravaged the area, destroying the original building, prompting Anna Clark, Senator William’s widow, to rebuild it as a French-style mansion.
Senator Clark passed away shortly after. As the wealthiest figure of the gilded age, his widow and family were hardly bereft of money. Rebuilding took eight years, and no expense was spared in the repair. The resulting structure still stands on the grounds to this day.
The Great Estate
The Clark family was so well-to-do that the estate only served as their summer home. It required a small platoon of gardeners, cooks, servants, and laborers to maintain. During the great depression, the competition must have been fierce to land a spot there!
Bellosguardo served the family well in the 30s and 40s. The workers diligently kept the mansion in pristine shape whether they were staying there or not. The mansion would have earned a reputation as one of the most well-maintained properties in the area.
With so much wealth and property, the Clarks only had time to stay at one Italian-style mansion for a short time. They were split between Bellosguardo and many of their other homes and vacation villas.
The family visited in 1951, but after their departure, the staff at Bellosguardo received no word from the Clarks. Many years came and went. The crystal was buffed, and the dust was swept from every floor, but no life animated the Santa Barbara estate.
Twelve Years Later
Fast-forward to 1962—after a decade of silence, the staff at Bellosguardo was given word that Anna had passed away. The estate’s ownership had been passed to her only surviving child, Huguette. There must have been much chatter amongst the staff that evening as the decade-long silence was broken.
Huguette, rather than dismissing the staff or selling up, left them instructions to keep everything pristine and well-maintained. The staff awaited her visit, but for the rest of her life—until 2011—she never made a visit herself.
A House Occupied by Helps
We dare say that the value of the Clarks’ Santa Barbara mansion was largely enjoyed by the maintenance staff that lived there. Of course, none of them is allowed to occupy the main house or use any of the master bedrooms. However, it would be on record that the house helps were the estate’s longest occupants.
Apparently, when one has so many houses to pick from, it becomes difficult to call a single one ‘home.’
A House Suspended
Beyond a few wear-and-tear repair jobs, the Santa Barbara estate remained as it was since 1951 when the family made their last trip. The floor was swept, the dust was wiped, and even the antiquated light bulbs were all in working order.
Bellosguardo remained guestless, even beyond the crash of ‘08. Huguette’s life would inspire a book entitled Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune—a rather apt title, to say the least!
Untouched By Time
It isn’t just the floors and walls that are kept stain and dust-free. The staff went to great lengths to preserve the artwork of the house from diminishing over time. This painting, depicting Anna Clark, has been kept so fresh that it could have been painted yesterday.
Perhaps the staff had an idea of how much time would elapse over the course of the family’s absence—although if you told them they would be gone for over 60 years, we’re not sure if they would have believed it.
The Dusting Schedule
For over half a century, a small team of dusters has been sent out to keep the book covers on the shelves of the enormous library walls clear of dust and cobwebs. Of course, not everything in the house is exposed to the elements.
Most of the seats in the estate—couches, armchairs, rocking chairs—have throws over them to protect the leather and wood from any kind of degradation. Still, a few times a week, paid housekeepers made the rounds to ensure a spotless house.
Artifacts Of The Clark Family
The rooms in the Santa Barbara home of the Clarks are truly a sight to behold, with many of them featuring stunningly intricate wood paneling. These wood accents are a part of the family’s history and were originally installed in the Clarks’ Manhattan mansion.
The paneling made the journey from New York to Santa Barbara in 1925. The Clarks deeply appreciated the beauty and craftsmanship of these panels, as they chose to incorporate them into their new home despite the hassle and expense of shipping.
Leisure Time Activities
Here’s another room frozen in time, evidence of the family’s love for leisure. The Clark’s music room was a true oasis of relaxation and enjoyment, equipped with not one but two Steinway pianos and a pair of French pedal harps, providing entertainment and enjoyment for the entire family.
You can also find several gaming tables that are perfectly set up for rounds of bridge or chess. These tables are the perfect spot for a friendly competition with friends, family members, or solo strategizing and problem-solving.
Ascending The Stairs
The beautiful wooden staircase at Bellosguardo is a true aesthetic marvel, winding its way upwards from the mansion’s ground level and leading to the various bedrooms that comprise a portion of the 27 main rooms.
There are a total of nine bedrooms at this luxurious residence, six of which were reserved for the Clarks and their personal use. The remaining three bedrooms were smaller in size and intended for the benefit of staff members who the family employed.
When it came to matters of hygiene, Bellosguardo spares no expense—it is home to many stunning bathrooms, each more opulent than the last. From the fine stone surfaces to the golden accents, these luxurious spaces were designed to be a true oasis of relaxation and indulgence.
One bathroom stands out due to its unique feature: a bathtub that has been expertly carved from a single slab of marble. This type of attention to detail and commitment to excellence is what sets Bellosguardo apart from other homes.
Preserving the Clarks’ Legacy
As far as any member of the Clarks’ family was concerned, the value of the artifacts, fittings, and interior décor of the Bellosguardo went beyond the market value of those items. On the contrary, the estate and everything it embodied has become a symbolic part of the Clark family.
So, it is little surprise that surviving members of the family spared no expense in keeping the property in pristine shape.
The Garden And Beyond
The outdoor spaces at Bellosguardo are just as impressive as the mansion’s interior. A “small” decorative pool with a beautiful design extends out into a maze of carefully pruned trees and ornamental hedges, eventually leading into the greater estate.
This backyard is just the beginning of the 23 acres of property that the mansion rests on. The property extends outwards, stretching for more than 1,000 feet along the stunning California coastline, where the Pacific waters rush along the white-gold sand.
Real Estate Appreciates
The uninitiated in real estate valuation will assume that the sixty-something years of the Clarks leaving their property unused is an economic waste. But, far from it; if that were the case, Bellosguardo would not be a worthy focus in this piece.
So, while the Clark family did not use the property for decades, it has not been allowed to fall into disuse, because they kept its unit in order. Consequently, a real estate valuator will definitely value it far greater than it was worth 60 years ago.
Future Potential of the Bellosguardo
If the Clarks family would ever consider giving up the Bellosguardo for sale, it would fetch some ridiculously handsome price. However, we are sure the buyer is likely to easily recoup the expense of the purchase.
For example, going by the coastline that comes with the property, the buyer can decide to start a resort, a getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban life. And you can be sure such a facility will enjoy high patronage irrespective of the premium price that may come with the service.
A Small Museum Of Automobiles And Carriages
In addition to the mansion and its stunning outdoor spaces, the grounds of Bellosguardo also feature the original carriage house. This charming building has been carefully preserved over the years and still holds a number of luxury vehicles.
These vehicles are not only in mint condition but also bear their original 1949 license plates—truly living artifacts of a bygone era. It is a testament to their wealth that at no point did they have to consider selling an inch of the estate or its holdings.
The Hidden Cottage
Tucked away at the rear of the property is Andrée’s Cottage, named after Huguette’s older sister, Andrée, who passed away from meningitis in 1919. As a way of remembering and honoring her sister, Huguette chose to name the cottage after Andrée.
The cottage displays a number of paintings of her throughout the main house and serves as a kind of living memorial to her. Although nobody has lived there for more than half a century, the cottage is kept as pristine as the rest of the estate.
The Estate’s Value
It’s no secret that Bellosguardo is a truly valuable and impressive estate, with an estimated value of a whopping $85 million. Despite this enormous value, the owner of the property, 104-year-old heiress Huguette, never once considered selling it, even on her deathbed.
For the Clarks, this amount might have just been a drop in the bucket. Huguette did, however, remember the estate in her final hours. She made a special stipulation in her will concerning the fate of the estate—ensuring that it remains as-is for generations.
Opening Its Doors
Since Huguette’s passing, the estate has been placed under the guidance of the Bellosguardo Foundation. The charitable organization has been dedicated to transforming the property into a cultural center for the arts. The mansion and its grounds will soon be open to the public, although small tours are available for supporters.
According to the foundation’s website, they are committed to making the most of this incredible property, ensuring that it is used to its full potential while maintaining this stunning—and living—piece of gilded-age American history.
Converting the Bellosguardo to a resort is a great idea, but since the Clarks family is by no means in need of proceeds from the estate’s sale, Huguette’s decision is much better.
Consequently, instead of being a luxury resort that can only be afforded by the rich, Madam Huguette made the decision to make this Clark and American heritage accessible to everyone who cares to visit. This would definitely make the Bellosguardo a museum of the Clarks family.
The Estate Lives On
Visitors to Bellosguardo will, in the future, be able to enjoy picnic lunches near the beautiful rose gardens and experience the history of the Clark family and the estate firsthand. The Bellosguardo Foundation plans to open the estate to the arts as well.
According to their website, visitors will be able to experience jazz recitals on the front lawn and view important, on-loan pieces of art from all over the world. Perhaps soon, after sixty years, the estate will be full of light and laughter once again.