Law & Justice

Hillsborough Preservationists Reach Across the Ocean for Help Saving Doris Duke Mansion from Demolition

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A group of Hillsborough preservationists are calling on the Claude Monet Foundation in France to help save the Doris Duke mansion from demolition;.
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A public hearing on the fate of the Doris Duke Mansion will be held in Superior Court in Somerville on Feb. 26. Credits: Courtesy Doris Duke Foundation
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HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - A group of determined township preservationists is reaching across the ocean for help in trying to prevent the demolition of the historic Doris Duke Mansion.

DORIS - Demolition Of Residence Is Senseless -  is seeking the support of an international organization, The Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny, France.

"We are reaching out to The Claude Monet Foundation to help save the Duke home. You're wondering why we would contact an organization in France," said Nancy Piwowar, local history advocate and DORIS member.

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"Well, we believe one good turn deserves another. Doris Duke donated funds to save and restore the house and gardens of Claude Monet, which was opened to the public in 1980. Giverny is a national treasure in France."

David Brook, a DORIS supporter, a Hillsborough resident and an attorney, explained, "Monet's house and gardens fell into disrepair after the death of the painter. Just like the Duke Mansion, 20 years of neglect. It's a major dereliction of duty by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in letting the home of their benefactor go to ruin."

Brook has filed a brief that will be argued in Superior Court on Feb. 26; the Doris Duke Foundation has agreed to delay the demolition awaiting the outcome of a decision by Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone.

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

DORIS contends the 65,000 square-foot mansion, which was remodeled and expanded several times by Doris Duke, has major historical significance and should not be razed. 

"Clearly, the Duke Mansion and Farm are significant historical gems here in New Jersey," Brook said. "We need the support and help of organizations such as The Claude Monet Foundation to convince the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation of the tremendous value and potential of this asset."

"What is the Duke Estate without the estate house?," added Piwowar."Claude Monet's house only adds to the context of the artist as he painted the water lilies in the gardens at Giverny. The Duke Mansion is where the Duke Family lived for over 100 years and built the magnificent Duke Farms and Residence complexes."

Along with Doris Duke, other wealthy art lovers such as Henry Ford II and Laurance and David Rockefeller donated funds to save the Monet house and gardens, according to Brook.

"The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation does not need donations to save the Mansion. They are an enormously wealthy organization. They can easily afford to restore the Duke home without outside help. It would be great if the Ford and Rockefeller Families encouraged the Foundation to use some of its resources to save the Duke home."

The 2,700-acre expanse that surrounds the estate is maintained and managed by the Duke Farms Foundation with frontage along Route 206 south. There are expansive grasslands and heavily wooded areas.

By design, the estate 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 remediated so that the property could revert to its more natural state.  

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