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Santa Barbara woman shares childhood memories growing up at Bellosguardo Estate

One of the most anticipated celebrations in Santa Barbara happens Saturday night: The inaugural party at the famed Bellosguardo Estate across from the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.

Opening up the private mansion to the public is an emotional milestone for Barbara Hoelscher Doran.

“My father managed the Clark Estate for 50 years, from 1932 to 1982,” Doran told reporter Beth Farnsworth.

Doran and author Bill Dedman were guest speakers Friday at the Santa Barbara Club, ahead of Saturday’s Gatsbyesque soiree at the estate. She likens her childhood years at the private estate as a “fairy tale.”

“They’d call my mom and say, ‘Can Barbie, little Barbie, come over for afternoon tea?’ So, I would go over and have tea with Anna E. Clark and Huguette,” Doran said.

Art and music lessons, playing in the rose garden and having friends over to the main house are among Doran’s favorite memories. She is one of the few locals who spent time with the reclusive copper heiress decades before her death.

“I think my fondest memory is the gentleness and the kindness that … in all things and a very, very understated elegance,” Doran said of Huguette.

Dedman captured that elegance in his novel, ‘Empty Mansions,’ which to date has sold more than 400,000 copies.

“Huguette was 102 when I stumbled into her story,” Dedman said. “When I saw that her home in Connecticut was for sale, but hadn’t been visited in 50 years. What I didn’t have any idea for awhile there was, that was not her nicest unused home. The one here (Santa Barbara) is.”

Dedman said rules required keeping Bellosguardo unchanged and in first class condition, at a cost of $40,000 dollars a month. Huguette also owned three massive apartments on Fifth Avenue in New York, among other luxurious properties.

It’s been nearly 70 years since Huguette last stepped foot into what was once her family home in Santa Barbara. Doran said she once told a friend that Bellosguardo reminded her of her mother and visiting the estate once her mother passed made her too sad.

Following Clark’s death in 2011, it became well publicized that she spent the last 20 years of her life living in a hospital room in New York. Dedman said a one-time intruder and treatment for some facial cancer made her feel more secure in that setting.

“Sounds like a sad story but it’s not,” Dedman said. “She seemed as lively and elegant and interested, communicative all through her 104, nearly 105 years.”

Now, a modern infusion of celebrating and fundraising begins at the home that stands as it did in the 1930’s, frozen in time.

“The party will be held outside in the garden so the visitors may see only a little bit of the house,” Dedman said, referring to Saturday’s event. “The Bellosguardo Foundation is looking to (eventually) open up the private estate to the public. Its goal is to make it a place for the arts and music and where you could buy a ticket and go up and have a picnic, take a tour of the home, or learn the odd historic history of the Clark’s.”

“I’m hoping that it’ll make Huguette and Anna E. Clark, her mother, very proud,” Doran said.

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