Clark County’s namesake, William Andrews Clark left behind a lasting legacy following his construction of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. He also left a wealthy daughter, Huguette, who once lived in the largest home in New York overlooking Central Park, but spurned it to live with caregivers in an Upper East Side hospital, for nearly 20 years, though she was perfectly healthy. Huguette Clark is the subject of a new exhibit at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas opening Saturday, Nov. 16.
Owner of the railroad which established the town of Las Vegas in 1905, W. A. Clark greets the town's citizens from his private railcar that year. His company auctioned off the lots that became downtown Las Vegas, now in Clark County. Credit: University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Libraries, Special Collections, from the book "Empty Mansions."
Huguette poses for a photograph in her debutante days, a time when young ladies were presented to society so they could attract a husband. She graduated from high school at a time when most of the girls at her private school planned to get married, but in a few years most in the graduating classes were looking forward to college.
Credit: The Estate of Huguette M. Clark, from the book "Empty Mansions."
Author and Pulitzer prize-winning NBC journalist Bill Dedman has chronicled the woman’s story and followed her through a bitter custody fight that reached a possible settlement in summer 2013. Dedman will be at the museum to speak and autograph “Empty Mansions” at the opening from 1 to 3 p.m. together with his co-author Paul Clark Newell Jr., a cousin of Huguette. “Empty Mansions,” available in the museum store, details the young woman’s journey from opulence to seclusion, the extravagant places she left behind and the people who cared for her before her death in 2011 at the age of 104.
Several dozen photos of the Clark family, featuring the heiress, her copper magnate father and the mansions they owned from coast to coast are displayed in the exhibit that runs through December. Along with intimate family photos, included in the collection is a photo of William Clark at the auction of what would become the Las Vegas town site. He also gave a building to the University of Nevada to honor his first wife.
Huguette lived in Reno for three months in 1930 in order to finalize her divorce. After returning to New York she rarely left her home, but once made an exception for a fashion show for the house of Dior, to see new trends to make dresses for her beloved doll collection. She designed elaborate dollhouses in German and Japanese styles and had them built to meticulous standards. Steve Wynn bought “In the Roses,” a painting by Renoir, from Huguette for $23.5 million.
When she died, she left all her fortune to her longtime nurse, her accountant and her attorney. Her family’s court case at last shed light on the heiress to a fortune won in the development of the American West.
The “Empty Mansions” program is included in regular museum admission which is $9.95 for Nevada residents and free for members of the museum, the Springs Preserve and those 17 and younger. The Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, is at 309 S. Valley View Blvd. in Las Vegas on the grounds of the Springs Preserve and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Monday. For more information visit museums.nevadaculture.org or call (702) 486-5205.