The No. 1 New York Times bestseller:
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark
and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
The No. 1 New York Times bestseller. Best nonfiction books of the year at Goodreads, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble. One of the New York Times critic Janet Maslin’s 10 favorite books of 2013.
Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?
When Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.
Huguette was the daughter of self-made copper industrialist William Andrews Clark, nearly as rich as Rockefeller in his day, a controversial senator, railroad builder, and founder of Las Vegas. Huguette grew up in the largest house in New York City, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for the four members of the W. A. Clark family. She owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls. But wanting more than treasures, she devoted her wealth to buying gifts for friends and strangers alike, to quietly pursuing her own work as an artist, and to guarding the privacy she valued above all else.
The Clark family story spans nearly all of American history in three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to mining camps in the Montana gold rush, from backdoor politics in Washington to a distress call from an elegant Fifth Avenue apartment. The same Huguette who was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11 held a ticket nine decades earlier for a first-class stateroom on the second voyage of the Titanic.
Empty Mansions reveals a complex portrait of the mysterious Huguette and her intimate circle. We meet her extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother Anna, her star-crossed sister, her French boyfriend, her nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives fighting to inherit Huguette’s copper fortune. Empty Mansions draws a rich portrait from conversations with Huguette, her personal papers, and the testimony of her inner circle. Updated with the outcome of the court battle for her estate, Empty Mansions tells an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.
Empty Mansions is richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, taking us inside the old Clark mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue; inside Huguette’s apartments farther down Fifth Avenue; inside her family’s summer home, Bellosguardo, in Santa Barbara; and inside her empty country house in New Canaan, Connecticut. Photos show Huguette herself at various ages; her boyfriend, Etienne de Villermont; her sister, Andrée; their mother, Anna LaChapelle Clark.
Illustrations in text
p. ii-iii: Anna Clark’s bedroom at Bellosguardo, c. 1940.
p. 6: W. A. Clark home, northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Seventy-Seventh Street.
p. 10: Salon Doré, a room from the Clark Mansion on Fifth Avenue, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
p. 11: Morning room in the W. A. Clark mansion on Fifth Avenue, 1911–27.
p. 15: Anna, Andrée, and W. A. Clark in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue, 1914.
p. 24: Gold miners in 1863 in Central City, Colorado.
p. 37: Katherine Louise “Kate” Stauffer Clark.
p. 53: W. A. Clark, siblings, and other relatives in Los Angeles, 1908. Identification key on p. 437.)
p. 56: W. A. Clark greets citizens in Las Vegas from his private railcar, 1905.
p. 69: Pipe organ in art gallery of the W. A. Clark mansion on Fifth Avenue.
p. 107: Huguette Clark with 1925 graduating class from Miss Spence’s Boarding and Day School for Girls.
p. 109: Huguette Clark in Indian costume with her father, W. A. Clark, c. 1912.
p. 118: Showgirls clowning on console of pipe organ, W. A. Clark mansion on Fifth Avenue, before public tours preceding the home’s demolition, 1927.
p. 119: Bottom of marble staircase on ground floor of W. A. Clark mansion, Fifth Avenue, c. 1905.
p. 134: Huguette Clark posing with chair, c. 1925.
p. 135: William M. L. (Bill) Gower at Princeton, c. 1925.
p. 137: Huguette Clark in her wedding gown, 1928.
p. 140: Newspaper feature on Gower divorce, 1930.
p. 149: Exterior of 907 Fifth Avenue, 2013.
p. 156: Paul Cézanne, Madame Cézanne in a red dress (Madame Cézanne en robe rouge), c. 1890.
p. 163: Etienne Allard de Villermont in 1936.
p. 166: Letter from Etienne de Vilelrmont to Huguette Clark, March 21, 1965.
p. 167: Cable from Huguette Clark to Etienne de Villermont, July 17, 1959.
p. 198: Music room of Bellosguardo, c. 1940.
p. 207: Furniture covered in library of Bellosguardo, 2011.
p. 209: 1933 Cadillac seven-passenger limousine in the garage at Bellosguardo, 2011.
p. 209: 1949 license plate on 1933 Cadillac at Bellosguardo, 2011.
p. 214: Front of Le Beau Château in New Canaan, Connecticut, 2012.
p. 215: Bedroom built for Huguette Clark in the 1950s at Le Beau Château, 2012.
p. 216: Paintbrush motif on baluster of stairwell leading from Huguette Clark’s bedroom to the artist’s loft at Le Beau Château, 2012.
p. 321: W. A. Clark mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York.
p. 344: Letter from Huguette Clark to Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge, June 10, 1988.
Insert Section One (Between Pages 196 and 197)
Huguette Clark, c. 1943.
Clark mansion in Butte, Montana, built 1884–88.
Huguette Clark with her dolls on the porch of the Clark mansion in Butte, c. 1910–11.
W. A., Anna, Andrée, and Huguette Clark, c. 1912.
Anna Eugenia LaChapelle Clark, c. 1912.
Salon Doré, a room from the Clark mansion on Fifth Avenue, as installed and renovated at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2001.
Edgar Degas, The Dance Class (Ecole de Danse), c. 1873.
W. A. Clark with daughters Andrée, left, and Huguette, at Columbia Gardens in Butte, Montana, c. 1917.
Demolition of the W. A. Clark mansion at Fifth Avenue and Seventy-Seventh Street, May 1927, viewed from Central Park.
Insert Section Two (Between Pages 228 and 229)
Self-portrait by Huguette Clark, unsigned, c. 1928.
Painting by Huguette Clark of view down Fifth Avenue in snow with window and Japanese lamp, undated.
Painting by Tadé Styka of Huguette Clark painting a nude male model, c. 1925.
Painting by Huguette Clark of barefoot geisha, undated.
Huguette Clark, c. 1928.
Aerial view of the Clark estate, Bellosguardo, in Santa Barbara, California, 2011.
Aerial view of Santa Barbara beaches, Bellosguardo, and the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge.
Library at Bellosguardo, c. 1940.
Andrée Clark, c. 1917.
Anna Clark’s bedroom at Bellosguardo, c. 1940.
Andrée’s Cottage, Bellosguardo, 2011.
Sign at Andrée’s Cottage, Bellosguardo, 2011.
Aerial view of Le Beau Château, Huguette Clark’s country retreat in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Vines growing through shutters outside the kitchen window of Le Beau Château, 2013,
Insert Section Three (Between Pages 260 and 261)
Etienne de Villermont with his daughter, Marie-Christine, and a toy donkey, Cadichon, given to her by Huguette Clark, c. 1967.
Antique French doll by Jumeau purchased by Huguette Clark on May 18, 1993.
Antique French doll by Thuillier purchased by Huguette Clark on May 18, 1993.
Model of an authentic Japanese building constructed for Huguette Clark to her design by an artist in Japan.
Japanese hina doll owned by Huguette Clark.
Huguette Clark with Easter flowers, c. 1955.
Furniture in Huguette Clark’s bedroom, 907 Fifth Avenue, Apartment 8W, 2011.
One of three checks for $5 million written to Hadassah Peri by Huguette Clark.
Edgar Degas, Dancer Making Points (Danseuse Faisant des Pointes), 1879–80.
Violin “La Pucelle” by Antonio Stradivari, 1709, owned by Huguette Clark, from The Fulton Collection.
Art Deco diamond and multi-gem charm bracelet, c. 1925, owned by Huguette Clark
Emerald, pearl, and diamond ear pendants by Cartier, early twentieth century, owned by Huguette Clark.
Art Deco diamond bracelet by Cartier, c. 1925, owned by Huguette Clark.
Art Deco emerald and diamond bracelet by Cartier, c. 1925, owned by Huguette Clark.
View from the roof of 907 Fifth Avenue, 2013.
View from Huguette Clark’s last regular room at Beth Israel Medical Center, Room 3K01, Third Floor, Karpas Pavilion, 2012.