“Empty Mansions” – the mysterious life of Hugette Clark

This interesting tale of a reclusive American heiress held my attention even though I was on my spring break trip with 10 other friends/family (FRAMILY!).

Here are the top 10 things I learned about Hugette Clark. Don’t worry even though they look like spoilers, the book is so good you should still read it:

1. Her mother, Anna, was one of the earliest “trophy wives” as she was married at 23 to W.A. Clark who was 67 years old at the time and had 4 grown children.

2. The family mansion Hugette grew up in took 13 years to build but was only lived in for 14 years. After her father died when she was 18 his second family had 3 years to move out of the family home. Unfortunately, no one could afford to live there! It cost $10M to build and sold for only $3M and was eventually demolished. These prices don’t seem crazy but keep in mind this was in the 1920’s!

3. Hugette got married in 1928 and was married for less than a year, however she remained friendly with her ex-husband and his family for the rest of her life.

4. Her only sibling died when she was 17 and Hugette was 13.

5. Her father, W.A. Clark gained his wealth and fame as a copper miner and is credited with being the founder of Las Vegas.

6. She bought a mansion in 1951 during the cold war just in case she needed a safe place out of the city however she never spent a single night there.

7. Her mother, Anna had her own “safe mansion” in San Diego that Hugette kept restored in it’s original condition to pay homage to her late mother. After her mother died she did not visit that mansion for 53 years.

8. Even with these 2 empty mansions and THREE apartments on 5th Avenue she lived for 20 years in self imposed exile in New York City hospitals even though the doctors declared her healthy.

9. Some called her shy and some called her reclusive, whatever you would say she spoke to few people and had a very small circle of close friends. She valued her privacy above everything and only a few people had access to her.

10. Her will, valued at $300 million, was left mostly to charity, her private nurse, her attorney and accountant. It was contested by 19 members of her family, most who had never even met her. It recently was settled out of court.

The book is well written and respectful to this remarkable lady who chose to live her life in seclusion. As I read this book I was in awe of Hugette but wondered why she chose her reclusivity in one of the busiest cities in the world, NYC, rather than chosing to retreat to one of her private and quiet empty mansions. We will never know the answer to that question. I highly recommend this book as a great read about a great lady and also a look back at the history of wealth and commerce in America.


About Anne Loughrey

I am an avid member of several book clubs and a prolific keeper of my books. I love to discuss books and hear what others think of books I have read.
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One Response to “Empty Mansions” – the mysterious life of Hugette Clark

  1. Shelly Crowley says:

    Okay Anne – We talked about everything under the blazing sun when on our spring break trip with you … well, except the books we were reading while we were talking! So fun to get this post today – glad you had a good book for the trip! I read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom and Fault in our Stars by John Green – both page turners too!

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