Law & Justice

Attorneys Clash Over Fate of Doris Duke Mansion; Judge Will Rule Next Week

ab8fb067648be495e17e_9ab375bb6106a9a8dca8_hillspixdorisdukeestatepostcard1.jpg
This postcard depicts the Doris Duke Mansion as it appeared in 1915.
ab8fb067648be495e17e_9ab375bb6106a9a8dca8_hillspixdorisdukeestatepostcard1.jpg

SOMERVILLE, NJ – Passion, perceptions and procedures dominated as three attorneys clashed over the fate of the 19th-century Doris Duke mansion yesterday.

Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone concluded the one-hour hearing by announcing she would issue a final ruling by the end of next week.

Attorney David Brook, who represents the grass roots preservationist group DORIS – Demolition of Mansion is Senseless - made an impassioned presentation, hoping to stave off demolition of the 67,000 square-foot mansion in Hillsborough where the heiress and socialite lived until she died in 1993.

Sign Up for E-News

Members of DORIS and Duke Farms executives, including Michael Catania, executive director, were present for the hearing.

The Hillsborough Township Historic Commission voted 6-1 to issue a demolition permit sought by the Duke Farms Foundation at its meeting in October 2015, following several public hearings dominated by questions and challenges from members of DORIS.

The Dukes Farm Foundation contends additions and alterations made to the original house by the heiress after inheriting the property in 1932 negates its value and significance as a historic structure. Furnishings, paintings, sculpture, chandeliers, jewelry, an extensive wine collection and other contents were removed from the residence and sold in New York City at a lavish four-day auction by Christie’s in June 2004. Proceeds went to the Duke Charitable Trust.

Indoor fountains, fireplace mantels and other fixtures have also been removed.

Jeffrey LaRosa, attorney for the Duke Farms Foundation, said that sections of the floor no longer exist and that many doors are also gone.

He estimates it would take between $10-20 million to restore the expansive building, money that the foundation wants to spend elsewhere on the property.

The Duke Farms Foundation maintains the heiress and socialite, who was also an avid horticulturist intended the 2,700 expanse surrounding the mansion be maintained as an ecological preserve and environmental learning center.

Brook pointed out that Duke in 1987 had prepared an application seeking to have the mansion considered for placement on the National Historic Places registry.

Hillsborough designated the mansion as a historic site in 2001.

Brook pressed his contention that testimony provided to the Historic Commission during its public hearings by expert witness Emily Copperman was “tainted and questionable,” absent of any third-party input.

He also said the expert provided “selective information” and “did not conduct due diligence,” suggesting that she should have consulted with people “who know more than you do.

“We think the commission missed the boat,” Brook said.

William J. Willard, attorney for the township, and LaRosa countered Brook’s arguments; Willard suggested Brook stumbled over procedures and engaged in personal attacks on township officials, legal counsel and expert witnesses over the past several months as he filed several motions and addendums on behalf of DORIS.

“His mistakes became my mistakes,” a perturbed Willard said.

“I object to this excess baggage Mr. Brook is throwing at the court,” LaRosa added.

The attorney for the foundation also reminded Brook that the mansion is private property but that the foundation is being true to Duke’s wishes that the grounds be accessible to the public.

“They’ve allowed millions of people to visit; they want to,” he said.

LaRosa also dismissed suggestions that the mansion could have been converted into bed & breakfast lodging, or adapted as a satellite college facility; the foundation does not want any commercial use within the property, LaRosa said.

He also said that the foundation has or is working on restoration of 25 of the structures on the property at considerable cost.

Ciccone yesterday denied Brook’s latest effort to amend the record when he asked the court to consider a letter he received Feb. 19 from National Park Service Landmarks Manager Bill Bolger, who had reservations with testimony provided to the Historic Commission by Copperman.

"Mr. Bolger is clear about the historical significance of the Doris Duke Mansion,” Brook said.

In his Feb. 12 letter, Bolger writes:

“Regardless of what one thinks of the house as a work of architecture, its standing as a component that contributes to the overall integrity of the historic district that it is a part of is beyond dispute, and its demolition will certainly represent a loss of one of the historic district’s most distinctive, and perhaps most important, features.’ "

Brook insisted that Bolger’s criticism of Copperman’s conclusions meant the Historic Commission was not properly apprised of the property’s historic significance while admitting that Bolger, who had attended a Sept. 24 hearing held by the Historic Commission, did not offer at that time to testify on behalf of DORIS.

Willard challenged Brook and questioned why Bolger failed to step up at that time and why he waited another 4-5 months before submitting the letter.

Brook said Bolger had traveled to the Sept. 24 hearing to offer his expertise, but was not given ample time to make a presentation.

“Bolger didn’t want to testify in their behalf,” Willard said. “He never came up to the podium. On Sept. 24, Brook had the floor to present any witness he wanted. The floor was his to do what he wished.”

Brook maintains the actions of the township Historical Commission, which issued the demolition permit to the Duke Farms Foundation in October, were “arbitrary and capricious.’’

The attorneys representing the township and the foundation argued that members of the Historic Commission were careful to follow procedures.

“The process wasn’t flawed,” Willard said. “Everyone was treated equally. The decision amply supported the record,” he added.

“We are hard pressed to say there wasn’t due consideration,” LaRosa said, noting that Duke Farms had met all seven criteria required by township ordinance to proceed with the demolition.

The Foundation had agreed earlier this year to delay the demolition pending Ciccone’s decision.  

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Bridgewater/Raritan

Upcoming Events

Sat, July 21, 9:00 AM

The Wayrick Gallery, Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: NJ Audubon Photography Instructors’ ...

Arts & Entertainment Green

Sat, July 21, 9:00 AM

The Center for Contemporary Art, Bedminster,

2018 Members’ Non-Juried Exhibition & Sale

Arts & Entertainment

Sat, July 21, 9:30 AM

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Nature-Infused Yoga Summer Series

Green Health & Wellness

Somerville Woman Arrested for Shoplifting from Macy's, According to Bridgewater Police Report

July 14, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A Somerville woman was arrested for allegedly shoplifting more than $400 worth of merchandise from Macy's at the Bridgewater Commons Mall July 7, according to a report from Bridgewater Township Police.

Sara Morales-Silva, 51, was charged with shoplifting after she was found with about $435.04 worth of merchandise from the store.

She was processed and released pending a ...

The Somerset Patriots And 9-1-1 On FOX Are Looking For Hero First Responders

July 21, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Somerset Patriots and 9-1-1 On FOX are asking for Hero First Responder nominations from the community.

Nominate a first responder to be recognized on the field during the pre-game ceremony and throw out a ceremonial first pitch at the Saturday, August 4th Somerset Patriots game against the New Britain Bees at TD Bank Ballpark. Three first responders will be chosen ...

Somerville: Gallery Hosts Photo Society's 90th Anniversary Exhibit

July 15, 2018

SOMERVILLE, NJ – Arts on Division is presenting “Visions of Raritan Photographic Society – A Celebration of 90 years” from Thursday, July 19 to Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018 at the Gallery on Division, 15B Division Street.

The Raritan Photographic Society, founded in 1929, is the oldest photography club in New Jersey. The exhibit celebrates the organization's 90 years ...

Take Action to Reduce Debt

In our last article, we broached the subject of debt and the township’s reliance – or over-reliance – on debt to fund our yearly expenditures for items such as roads. So, ok, we want to reduce our reliance on debt moving forward, especially as the cost of borrowing is rising. What’s the solution?

Well, there’s no magic wand we can wave to suddenly end ...

Is the Mediterranean Diet Still the Best for Heart Healthy Eating?

The Mediterranean diet has long been the standard for heart healthy eating.  It is a diet that emphasizes olive oil, fresh vegetables, nuts, whole grains over refined grains, fish and plant-based protein over red meat, herbs and spices to flavor food over salt, and fresh fruit for dessert instead of refined sweets. The US News and World Report even named the Mediterranean diet its ...

Celebrate Summer with Freedom & Responsibility

Parents and students rejoice!

School is out and everyone can now experience a great sense of freedom. Kids want to be outside enjoying summer weather and; although it’s the most wonderful season for non-academic activities involving swimming, traveling, and hiking to name a few, let us not forget that summer loss is a serious long-term result of not opening a book or writing for eight ...

Unique Skill Set Offers Students an Advantage

One of our SAT prep students recently gained a lot of attention for being accepted to all seven of the Ivy League schools to which she had applied, as well as to Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) She has chosen to attend M.I.T. and major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Of course, Diana had earned stellar SAT scores and had a most impressive ...

Rutgers Hikes Tuition, Student Fees for 2018-2019 Academic Year

July 19, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University Board of Governors approved a 2.3 percent hike in tuition and fees, as well as increases for dorm rooms and meals, for the 2018-2019 academic year.

The increase now brings the annual cost for undergraduate students to $14,975, which is $337 more than this past school year.

Student housing will increase 1.9 percent, and dining ...