Karl Obert/Empty Mansions Book; Inset: John L. Wiley/Empty Mansions Book
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May 21, 2014 11:30 AM

For 60 years the contents of Huguette Clark’s mansion, Bellosguardo, in Santa Barbara, California, have remained a mystery to the general public, until a curious reporter captured an inside look at one of America’s richest families.

“It started for me when my wife and I were shopping for our house, and I got a little out of our price range,” Bill Dedman, coauthor of Empty Mansions, told PEOPLE.

“I was looking at the real estate listings for the most expensive houses in Connecticut just to amuse myself. The houses we really couldn’t afford,” he continued.

RELATED: Huguette Clark’s Great-Nephew Found Dead in Snow

During this hunt, Dedman discovered a 14,000-square-foot mansion on 52 acres in New Canaan, Connecticut, which recently dropped from $34 million to $25 million and boasted one unusual feature: The house had not been lived in since it was bought in 1951. Perplexed, Dedman visited the house and first learned of Huguette Clark, the start to a story he went on to detail in the New York Times best seller Empty Mansions with coauthor Paul Clark Newell Jr.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr. (left) and Huguette Clark in 1928 soon after her wedding
Ballantine Books/Empty Mansions Book; AP

The reclusive daughter of copper billionaire W.A. Clarke, Huguette inherited her family’s abundance of everything: art, fine goods and, of course, real estate. Along with the empty “spare” house in Connecticut, the Clark family also owned the Bellosguardo mansion in Santa Barbara.

A view of the side of the Indiana limestone facade of Bellosguardo, the Huguette Clark estate in Santa Barbara, California
Estate of Huguette Clark/Empty Mansions Book

“There were legends that no one from the family had visited the house since the ’50s, but there were gardeners still at work, and there were cars from the ’30s and ’40s still in the garage, and I didn’t believe any of that.”

A portrait of Andramp#233;e Clark, Huguette's older sister, above the marble fireplace in the pine-paneled library
Karl Obert/Empty Mansions Book; Estate of Huguette Clark/Empty Mansions Book

Eventually, these doubts dissipated when Dedman and Huguette Clark’s cousin Paul Clark Newell Jr., who would become Dedman’s coauthor, were granted access inside the mansion by the estate administrators. This entry made the journalist one of the first outsiders to see the house’s interior in over half a century. What he found was a whimsical and intricate abode untouched by the strains of time.

RELATED: See more photos of Huguette Clark and her empty mansions.

Over the past 60 years the 20,000-square-foot fortress of mystery, sitting atop a mesa overlooking the Pacific Ocean, has sat uninhabited but maintained by the estate’s staff at a cost of $40,000 a month.

The main hallway, lined with family portraits by Tadamp#233; Styka, at Bellosguardo, the Clark summer home in Santa Barbara, California
Karl Obert/Empty Mansions Book; Estate of Huguette Clark/Empty Mansions Book

This impressive sum is in accordance with Huguette Clark’s wishes for Bellosguardo. Even though the billionaire’s daughter spent the last 20 years of her life willingly living in New York City hospitals, Clark made sure her mother’s old house stayed in first-class condition and remained unaltered.

The dining room at Bellosguardo, the Clark summer home in Santa Barbara, California. This is one of the rooms said to have originally been in the old Clark mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York
Karl Obert/Empty Mansions Book; Inset:Estate of Huguette Clark/Empty Mansions Book

“You could throw the covers off the dining room chairs and tables and eat there tonight, even though no one has eaten there in 60 years,” Dedman said.

RELATED: Huguette Clark Splits $400 Million Fortune Between Charity – and Her Nurse

After Huguette passed away in May 2011, just two weeks shy of her 105th birthday, estate managers took charge of the house and continued to maintain its Gilded Age luster. Soon, according to Dedman, control of the house will pass down to the new Bellosguardo Foundation, which will have two options.

A fireplace inside Bellosguardo, the Huguette Clark estate in Santa Barbara, California
Karl Obert/Empty Mansions Book; Estate of Huguette Clark/Empty Mansions Book

The foundation’s board can choose to open the expansive property to the public, transforming the house into a museum about the Clark family and renting out the space for events. Or the foundation can sell Bellosguardo, valued at around $85 million, and use the money to honor the Clarks’ legacy and love for art.

A bathroom upstairs at Bellosguardo, the Clark summer home in Santa Barbara, California. This photo is from about 1940 (above). A tub in the same master bath inside Bellosguardo in 2014
Karl Obert/Empty Mansions Book; Estate of Huguette Clark/Empty Mansions Book

After seeing the carefully preserved majesty of Bellosguardo, Dedman hopes that others are treated to the same escape into history. Regardless of the final decision, the journalist’s adventure into Huguette’s life has given everyone a peek inside the mythical mansion.

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