Somerset County News

Hillsborough Activists File Brief in Superior Court Seeking to Delay Demolition of Doris Duke Estate

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Built in 1893, the Doris Duke estate is slated for demolition. Credits: Courtesy Duke Farms Foundation
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HILLSBOROUGH - In a last ditch effort to prevent the demolition of the Doris Duke estate, activist attorney David Brooks has filed a 40-page brief in Superior Court on behalf of a grassroots organization that seeks a judicial review of the proceedings held by the township’s Historical Preservation Committee that began in July.

The brief, filed on behalf of DORIS (Demolition of Residence is Senseless), may be moot, as Brooks is fearful the demolition permit sought by the Duke Farms Foundation will be issued shortly. He does not expect the court will hold a hearing for several weeks.

No demolition permit has been issued, according to Mayor Doug Tomson. The Duke Farms Foundation did apply for, and did receive, a permit to begin salvage of plumbing fixtures, doors, windows and railings from the sprawling 65,000 square-foot mansion, once home to the world’s wealthiest woman, who inherited a massive fortune from her industrialist father James Buchanan Duke.

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“Demolition is demolition, whether it’s from the outside in or the inside out,” said Brooks, a township resident and co-founder of DORIS.

The township’s Historical Preservation Commission approved demolition of the mansion in October last year by a 6-1 vote following a series of hearings that began in July.

The legal brief is the latest in a series of filings submitted by Brooks on behalf of DORIS.

“We’re trying to address a number of issues that we’re focused on, and hopefully, the court will listen,” Brooks said. “The brief relates to how we got to where we are with the town and how the process unfolded,” he added.

The estate, built in 1893 has been unoccupied since Doris Duke’s death in 1993, and according to the foundation, would be too costly to renovate.

DORIS contends the mansion, which was remodeled and expanded several times by Doris Duke has major historical significance and should not be razed.

The 2,700-acres that surround the estate are maintained and managed by the Duke Farms Foundation with frontage along Route 206 south. There are expansive grasslands and heavily wooded areas, with several species of plants and animals..

By design, it has slowly evolved into a popular environmental learning center and ecological preserve with bike paths and guided tours of the grounds.

Many of the ornamental gardens created with plants imported from around the world by the heiress, as well as a vast waterway system and other changes made to the natural plantings and topography have been re-mediated so that the property could return to a more natural state.

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