Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

Book review by Deane Barker tags: biography, history

Fascinating story of Huguette Clark, the youngest daughter of mining baron WA Clark. She was fabulously wealthy, but reclusive and eccentric. She maintained “empty mansions” that she never lived in, and even spent the last 20-ish years of her life contentedly living in a hospital room.

The early part of the book is a detailed history of her father, and her extended family. The Clark dynasty was expansive: seven children, two wives, and dozens of grandchildren (one great-grandchild is a co-author), stretching from Butte, Montana – where WA made most of his fortune – to New York City and overseas to Paris, where Huguette was born.

Eventually, only Huguette is left (she died in 2010, at the age of 104). The Clark real estate holdings stretched from coast-to-coast, all meticulously maintained…and empty.

One sprawling estate on the coast of Santa Barbara was worth almost $100 million and cost millions of dollars a year to maintain, but no one had been there since 1951. Huguette’s two massive apartments overlooking Central Park sat empty for 20 years. She bought another property in Connecticut and never moved a stick of furniture into it – she never even laid eyes on it

In the end, the book centers on the people around Huguette who spent a lot of her money. Huguette loved to give away money to people, and there are questions about whether she was lucid and generous, or mentally addled and being taken advantage of. (Her personal nurse, for example, was given $30 million over 17 years and owned seven homes and a Bentley when Huguette died.)

Wonderfully entertaining story, full of questions that never get answered. Very short chapters. Highly readable.

Book Info

Bill Dedman

This is item #237 in a sequence of 751 items.

You can use your left/right arrow keys to navigate