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Foundation Delays Demolition of Historic Doris Duke Mansion in Hillsborough; Judge Holds Hearing Feb. 26 in Somerville

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Demolition of the historic Doris Duke Estate has been delayed until at least Feb. 26 at which time a judge will hear oral arguments against the demolition plan. Credits: Courtesy Doris Duke Foundation
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HILLSBOROUGH – Demolition of the historic Doris Duke Estate has been delayed until Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone hears oral arguments against the plan in her Somerville courtroom Friday, Feb. 26.

Although Hillsborough Township has issued the necessary permits, the Duke Farms Foundation has agreed to hold off on the demolition until the judge has an opportunity to weigh the protests of a grass roots organization that has been fighting the plans to demolish the estate since last year.

“At least we have status quo,” said attorney David Brooks, one of the leaders of DORIS (Demolition of Residence is Senseless). “Everybody in the group feels good about that and at least we’ll get a fair shot at trying to convince the judge that the township and preservation committee didn’t get it right.”

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

Brooks has been filing arguments and briefs protesting the demolition for months.

He expects the judge will set up a briefing schedule which will allow the foundation to file briefs in favor of the demolition with DORIS given the opportunity to reply no later than Feb. 16, according to Brooks.

Secluded from public view, 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.

“If we win this, one of the first things I’ll be asking the judge is to get inside the place to inspect it and see what its condition is,” Brooks said.

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