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Santa Barbara weighs in on estate

Civic leaders urge support for turning a mansion in a probate case into a museum.

November 01, 2012|Steve Chawkins
  • The meticulously maintained 22,000-square-foot Bellosguardo had not been visited by its owner in at least 50 years.
The meticulously maintained 22,000-square-foot Bellosguardo had not… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)

Trying to ensure that an embattled blufftop estate becomes an art museum, Santa Barbara civic leaders have waded into a conflict over which of a reclusive heiress' two wills should be considered valid.

At issue is the fate of Bellosguardo, the 23-acre estate owned by Huguette Clark, who died last year at 104.

A group that includes Mayor Helene Schneider, former Mayor Sheila Lodge and a number of arts leaders and philanthropists urged the public Wednesday to register support for turning the property into a museum by signing on to their website, friendsofbellosguardo.org.

They said a show of public support might help sway court officials in New York City, who are weighing the fate of Clark's holdings.

"It's up to the community to come forward," Lodge said.

Clark, the daughter of copper baron William Andrews Clark, left behind properties valued at more than $400 million.

But she also left two wills, dated just six weeks apart in 2005.

The first gave $5 million to Clark's longtime nurse and the rest to 19 distant relatives.

The second omitted the relatives, gave the nurse $34 million, and directed that Bellosguardo be transformed into an art museum run by Clark's attorney Wallace Bock and her accountant Irving Kamsler.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, November 04, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
Santa Barbara estate: In the Nov. 1 LATExtra section, an article about the possibility of an estate called Bellosguardo being turned into an art museum quoted Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider as saying at a news conference that a group of civic leaders is " just trying to get a seat at the negotiating table." The quote should have been attributed to former mayor Sheila Lodge.

Clark lived in New York and hadn't set foot in her meticulously maintained 22,000-square-foot Santa Barbara home for at least 50 years.

But she was a member of the Santa Barbara Art Museum from 1949 until her death, and donated $30,000 to a local arts program.

In court filings, Clark's relatives say Bock and Kamsler exploited her. The two men cast the family members as "officious interlopers."

New York prosecutors have investigated Bock and Kamsler, but neither has been charged.

A judge, however, suspended them as the estate's executors, citing accusations of mismanagement and tax fraud.

Whether the two would be involved with a Bellosguardo museum is one of many open questions, according to the Friends of Bellosguardo group.

"We're just trying to get a seat at the negotiating table," Schneider said.

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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