June 20, 2024
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Editorial: Done right, Clark Estate could be major attraction


A settlement reached in New York has created a path to a more certain future for Santa Barbara’s famed Clark Estate, a mansion near East Beach that could be the next cultural attraction for the region.

But it will take years, more protracted court proceedings and perhaps a major transaction or two before the seaside property known as Bellosguardo is reopened as a museum and an $85 million foundation of the same name gets up and running.

Under the settlement, reached over the weekend of Sept. 20 by a number of parties meeting with an estate administrator, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. will get $10 million in cash, a share of the sale of a Monet painting worth an estimated $25 million and a seat on the board of the Bellosguardo Foundation.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider will get to make seven appointments to the board. Schneider hailed the settlement as a “fantastic opportunity” for the future of the city.
However, the closed-door settlement is only now being dissected by major parties, and former Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge is expected to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, paintings will be sold to pay legal fees totaling in the millions as family members, the Corcoran and various institutions stepped up to challenge the estate of Huguette Clark, a reclusive heiress who lived to age 104.

Clark was the youngest daughter of William Clark, a copper magnate and former U.S. Senator, and her death in New York led to the involvement of 16 major law firms in trying to untangle assets of $345 million and two wills that were at times in conflict.

Although the protests will continue as the IRS weighs in on whether the estate might owe as much as $18 million more in taxes on gifts, the framework for turning Bellosguardo into a museum and educational center on the West Coast has finally been created.

Which means that very soon, the discussion will turn to figuring out precisely how the foundation will operate, whether the assets as they currently exist will be able to cover the cost of operations, and how much public sector infrastructure in the form of parking lots and other amenities might be needed to minimize the impact on already heavy tourist traffic and East Beach neighborhoods.

On the plus side, Santa Barbara has the intellectual resources and physical assets to create a successful foundation and museum.

It has an art museum that punches above its weight and should welcome the involvement of the Corcoran in framing the Bellosguardo venue. It has vast resources in  architectural preservation and re-imaging historic properties.

We would encourage the city, the nascent Bellosguardo board and all the stakeholders to consider the following as the project takes shape:

• Tap existing resources across the region to give the creation of the new venue as much local economic impact as possible.

• Think about the long-term value of the foundation property as a teaching and inspirational venue for a new generation of creative artists in a wide range of media.

• Use new media technology to give Bellosguardo a true window on the entire world.