Book Review

Huguette Clark, 84, arrived at Manhattan’s Doctors Hospital by ambulance in 1991 anxious, malnourished and dehydrated, her face disfigured from untreated skin cancer.

Not your typical heiress whose estate would be valued at more than $300 million at her death 20 years later.

She was assigned a private-duty nurse, who stayed at her bedside 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Clark elected to spend her last two decades in the hospital. She lavished upon the nurse and her family at least $31.9 million in cash gifts and property, Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. report in their meticulous and absorbing Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.

The title refers to Clark’s lavish unused homes, including three apartments in a limestone Fifth Ave. co-op that she kept vacant while spending $300,000 a year on hospital care. That’s 42 rooms, excluding bathrooms. Annual maintenance and taxes: $342,000.

There was also a 23.5-acre Santa Barbara, California, estate, Bellosguardo, with 1,000 feet of ocean frontage that she didn’t visit for 60 years. She kept the bare-bones house staff to about a half-dozen.

She never moved into a New Canaan, Connecticut, getaway she purchased in 1951 that grew to 52 acres when she bought land as a buffer.

Log Cabin

Huguette was the youngest of seven children of William Andrews Clark. Born in a four-room log cabin on a Pennsylvania farm in 1839, he became one of the wealthiest Americans of his day through copper mining and other ventures.