Rumors had been going on for a while. Inquisitive children would sometimes walk past Villa Santa Barbara. They all had the same question in mind: “Who lives here?” But they couldn’t see anyone, and they had no way of knowing.
Nobody had gone into the property or left it for a long time, and the unkempt trees shielded the villa from prying eyes – and thought it a mystery. The staff must have been paid, but by whom?
Mountain of wealth
A man named William A. Clark owned the mansion. He was an extremely successful man who was a senator in Montana. The billionaire tycoon was fond of collecting mansions across the country.
It doesn’t sound that far-fetched how rich people live. But where was the Clark family now, and why should they leave the property just to maintain it? The beautiful mansion was adorned with many sentimental pieces.
The family tore down one of their houses in New York and had the ornate wooden panels and beautiful decorations transported to the Bellosgaurdo mansion. Bellosgaurdo means “beautiful viewpoint” from Italian.
That must have cost the family a fortune! And sadly, the Clark family experienced their first tragedy. It would happen soon after the mansion renovations were completed.
William sadly died in 1925 and his wife named Anna would inherit his fortune including the villa. The widow made sure that the mansion was filled with an amazing art collection. She even saw a few portraits of herself. The collection has been neatly curated.
The family still mourned their husband and would soon be even more unlucky. They would have to get off the ship if a natural disaster came upon them.
Bellosgaurdo was roughed up when the great earthquake knocked in Santa Barbara. This meant the family had to spend a fortune to bring it back to its former glory.
Anna alone was the one who rebuilt it. The renovations were finally completed in 1933 and you can see their handicrafts today. Even after all the time and money, she put into the house that she was about to leave shortly afterwards. She left behind some directions for confusion.
The family had made the decision that Bellosgaurdo would be their vacation home. Anna left over a hundred employees to maintain and further renovate the mansion. The house is waiting in pristine condition.
The Clarks would never return to the property, however. The employees continued to follow their instructions, even if it was a job. Then one day the manager answered a mysterious phone call.
The staff had always worked through a chain of command drawn from Clarks attorneys. One day they answered the phone and it wasn’t a lawyer. It was a woman’s voice and she said she was Huguette Clark.
Unfortunately Anna had passed away and Huguette was her daughter. She was the new heir to the estate and she had told them to keep what they had done. However, she stated that they should work extra hard on the cabin at the back of the property.
A place of remembrance
The house was called Andree’s Cottage and was named after Anna’s eldest daughter, who had died of meningitis in 1919. The staff could only assume that Huguette would come by and show her respect in the hut so that she could keep it cleaner than ever.
Even though they kept it beautifully clean, Huguette never came around. The staff got tired of rumors asking what was really going on.
Everything in its place
The staff kept the property clean like never before for a family they had never seen. All 27 haunted rooms have been kept immaculate and well maintained because of the hard working maids, gardeners, and craftsmen.
It cost Huguette $ 40,000 a month just to maintain the property, although she had never set foot in it except in her youth. The staff began to wonder if they would ever see the family. Huguette was very old now, probably in her nineties. Was she still alive at all?
Huguette was eccentric in her youth. Although she had never returned to her childhood fortress, she had invested a considerable amount of money to keep the property up and running.
She was a painter and spent most of her time in an apartment in New York that took up the entire 12th floor. After Anna’s death, Huguette largely withdrew from society and spent time in a very eccentric way.
Huguette preferred the company of her doll collection to other people because she was more “skittish towards strangers”.
She had been spotted at top fashion shows but was reported to have quickly returned to her hiding place with sketches to make clothes for her dolls. It was this paranoid behavior that would ultimately determine the fate of Bellosguardo.
Huguette had feared that her family was going to get her money. Her lawyers had asked her for years to make a final will (one of which wanted to be the sole beneficiary).
When she died, a will actually emerged – and the details upset many people. The future of Bellosguardo had finally been revealed.
The vast majority of Huguette’s money was given to various charities or those in need, and Bellosguardo was turned over to a board of directors with one simple instruction: that the great mansion become a foundation for the arts.
Shortly thereafter, the doors were opened to the public, revealing an untouched time capsule full of treasure.
The guests stared limply as they walked through the halls of Bellosguardo to admire the priceless art and antique furniture. There was an immaculate Stradivarius violin from 1709 on display in the music room, which looked like it had been very popular even though it hadn’t been played in six decades.
And that’s exactly what was in there. It was the house itself that really left her speechless.
The parquet floors were immaculate and 100 year old furniture and fabrics looked like they had all been restored. unless they hadn’t. The staff had kept it in perfect working order for years and no one had used it.
The marble-topped bathtub appeared to be in such good shape that guests wanted to get in and soak in it. But it was the surrounding grounds that really impressed visitors.
Fountains and pools full of clear water. Grass and hedges cut with precision. And at Huguette’s request, the little house dedicated to her sister was still ready to welcome guests.
There were luxury cars in the large garage – all with their original license plates. Despite some improvements, the classic engines were valued at $ 85 million. At this point, some angry family members came forward.
Despite the will, an incredible 19 extended family members tried to claim the property as their own (though Huguette had already been massively generous with them).
The board of directors wasn’t sure how to deal with the family claims that kept piling up. Then, to make matters worse, the tax officer knocked.
Everything from gifts to expenses left by Huguette needed to be reviewed by the IRS. Fortunately, the money she gave the board of directors was more than enough to cover the liability, and the lawyers were quick to put the distant family apart.
But now they had to worry about running the foundation themselves. Should they sell the property and use the money to keep Huguette’s philanthropic efforts going?
The board decided to continue plans to open Bellosguardo to the public. The current plan is to become “a new home for art, music, history and culture on the California coast”.
Soon the locked mansion will be breathed new life with art galleries, classes and family picnics along the spacious courtyard. What was once hidden is now enjoyed by anyone who wishes to visit. But not all empty villas have such a happy ending.
There are nearly 1.5 million empty homes in the United States – and affluent coastal communities like Santa Barbara have stories similar to Bellosguardo – vacation homes that have been vacant for years.
If anyone has an empty villa and needs a house sitter for a couple of decades, please let us know!