The mystery of New Canaan's empty mansion
Published 12:29 pm, Friday, March 26, 2010
For the last half century, the white brick manor at 104 Dans Highway in New Canaan has laid vacant. Aside from a pair of caretakers who keep the lawns meticulously manicured, the 52-acre estate has stood quiet for quite some time.
Huguette Clark purchased the property in 1952. She never spent a night there.
Clark is the daughter of William Andrews Clark, the early 18th century senator of Montana who reaped a fortune from copper mines out West. He died in 1925 in his home on New York's Millionaire's Row, home to the keepers of some of the deepest pockets in America.
Clark, then 19, inherited one-fifth of her father's $300 million estate, equivalent to $3.6 billion today, as well as an allowance of $90,000 each year for three years -- totalling $3 million today, according to an investigative report by MSNBC.com's Bill Dedman.
Clark married at 21, divorced two years later and soon after "slipped from the society pages," according to Dedman.
In 1938, retired U.S. Sen. David Aikeen Reed and his wife moved into a custom New Canaan estate, according to a property notice in the July 31, 1938, edition of The Hartford Courant. The Courant described the Pennsylvania politician's new throne as the second largest estate in New Canaan. In 1952, at age 46, Clark purchased it.
Void of dwellers and furnishings, the 22-room manor has stood empty for 53 years.
"She never moved in," said Barbara Cleary, who has represented the property since 2008 on behalf of Barbara Cleary Realty Guild in New Canaan. "It's totally empty. [Clark] never put any furniture in it. It really is Sen. Reed's house. Very few people have ever seen it."
In 2005, Clark put the estate, called Le Beau Château, on the market for $34 million.
Perhaps the person who knows the property best is its custodian, Tony Ruggieri. For 20 years, Ruggieri said he has lived in one of its two caretaker cottages; his son, Anthony, lives in the other. Over the years, they have become quite friendly with many of the deer, turkey, raccoons, hawks and owls that share the 52-acre pine forest with them, Ruggieri said.
"I have a robin that drinks out of my sink and I feed apple slices to the deer," he said, adding, "There's so much wildlife, but you can get lost wandering around if you're not paying attention."
Ruggieri said the house had about $1.8 million in upgrades and repairs about 10 years ago.
"But for who?" he asked.
Ruggieri said Clark has never paid a visit to Le Beau Château in the 20 years he has spent fixing its leaky pipes and plowing snow off its long drive.
"That's not for me to say," Bock said when asked why Clark purchased Le Beau Château only to let it sit dormant for more than half of her lifetime.
"That's nobody's business but hers," he said of her whereabouts.
Bock, who said he keeps in touch with his client by phone, refused to relay a request for an interview on to Clark.
Clark's great-half-nephew, André Baeyens, said his mother told him that Clark bought the country home as a bomb shelter during the Cold War, according to Dedman's report.
Three layers of brick encase the three-story home, Cleary said. Capped by a slate roof, it has nine bedrooms, nine baths, 12 fireplaces, a library and two identical caretaker cottages at the foot of a winding drive.
"The only wood in the house is the wood flooring," Cleary said. "It's a fortress. It's heavy and strong and powerful."
She added, "The kitchen is the best of 1938 kitchens. There's an icebox and a very old-fashioned warmer drawer. The oven still works. The kitchen alone is worth a lot as a museum piece."
Cleary said the home needs upgrading, but it retains an age-old eloquence of a bygone era.
"There's just a lovely gracefulness about it," she said. "There are sitting rooms. People used to sit and talk and listen to the radio, so on the second floor there's a sitting room with the master bedroom. That and the high ceilings and the expansiveness of it all is just very reflective of the era."
Cleary reports inquiries on the property from California, Switzerland and Germany. One prospective buyer toured the estate three times, she said.
A buyer made an offer and began the process to subdivide the lot through the Town of New Canaan in 2007, Cleary said. When the subdivision was about 80 percent complete, the economy began to crumble and the buyer pulled out of the agreement, she said.
Since priced down to $24 million, Le Beau Château is still for sale, complete with 10 subdivisions. Clark's only condition is that she will not sell one parcel at a time, Cleary said.
"All kinds of people have called, from families who would like to have a family compound, and they would live in the main house and build other houses for their children, to developers to families who want the whole property as it is."
In June, Clark will turn 104 years old.
Without a husband, children or immediate family, what will become of the remains of her fortune?
"I think she died eight years ago," Ruggieri said. "They're saying she's about 104, but I think she passed away and they are squaring up her finances."
To learn more about the history of Huguette Clark, visit Dedman's report at www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35470011