On May 24,  2011, Huguette Clark, one of the world’s richest women and subject of many TV reports last falldied at the age of 104.

Worth over an estimated half billion dollars, she grew up in New York’s Gilded Age, among the Guggenheims, Astors, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts.  When she died, she hadn’t been seen in public for over 20 years, owned mansions in Connecticut, an estate overlooking the Paciific in Santa Barbara, and the largest apartment in New York City – a 42-room Fifth Avenue pad which overlooked Central Park.

And her father was at one time the largest landowner in Los Alamitos.

He was William Andrews Clark, the man usually credited for building the Los Alamitos sugar factory in 1896-97, causing a new town to spring up from the former sheep pastures .  Technically, it was younger brother, J. Ross Clark, who built and ran the factory, the town, and the Montana Ranch — 8,000 additional acres purchased from Jotham and Lewellyn Bixby to grow sugar beets for their factory.   But because big brother William agreed to help fund it, William got to be company President and have people think he built it.

W.A. is often generously listed as a “Senator from Montana,” but he was also one of America’s greatest “robber barons” of the 19th century.  As rich as Rockefeller, Clark made fortunes in banks, mining, timber railroad and many other industries, including sugar and real estate – they not only started Los Alamitos, nine years later the Clarks would lay out and build the town of Las Vegas (which is why it’s in Clark County, Nevada).

He was ruthless.  He was up to his knees in monopolies and trusts, and he blatantly and shamelessly bought votes for a Montana senator position by paying $10,000 in a monogrammed envelope.  Mark Twain called Clark “as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag.” Not content with this, Twain added that Clark was “a shame to the American nation” whose proper place was behind bars.

Clark flaunted his wealth, building what is considered one of the gaudiest and most ostentatious mansions on Fifth Avenue in New York.  (It was said to cost three times what Yankee Stadium cost, and soon after his death it was torn down, and the paintings given to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C..) When William Andrews Clark died, his wealth passed down to his young 2nd wife, 40 years his junior.  And when she died in 1963, it all went to Huguette.

By this time there was very little Clark presence left around our parts.  Over the years, after the land became too valuable to farm, the Montana Ranch had been sold off.  In 1933, the first piece went to the Janss Company (builders of Westwood and Thousand Oaks) to build a new community called Lakewood Country Club.  The Depression halted this project.

Then large chunks were sold to build Long Beach City College, and then in 1940 to Douglas Aircraft at the north end of the Long Beach Airport.  In 1946, the East Ranch – almost 500 acres east of the sugar factory was sold to Frank Vessels who would soon build a thriving race track on that site.  In 1950 the last remaining big piece of property was sold to build the instant city of Lakewood.

Nowadays, except for Clark Avenue, one would be hard put to find any Clark influence remaining in this area.

It’s evident elsewhere.  Clark money helped build the University of Nevada and Las Vegas.  And William A. Clark Jr. used his fortune to fund much of the UCLA Library, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and this mausoleum at Hollywood cemetery.

But it’s here too.  You  have to look for it, but it’s here.


Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.