Demolition of Doris Duke mansion put on hold again

Community group calls on Duke Farms Foundation to explore other re-adaptive uses for the Hillsborough Township property

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2016, 9:00pm

Demolition work at a historic New Jersey mansion once owned by tobacco heiress and socialite Doris Duke has again been put on hold.

Crews started tearing down the Hillsborough Township mansion on Saturday, a day after a judge rejected a community group’s bid to halt the work.

The work was expected to continue on Sunday, but an appellate court judge late on Saturday granted an emergent motion filed by community group Demolition of Residence is Senseless (Doris). The judge ordered a halt to all demolition work until the matter is resolved.

The 67,000-square-foot mansion has been empty since Duke’s death in 1993. Officials with the Duke Farms Foundation say the building has fallen into disrepair and would take at least US$10 million to bring up to code.

The foundation’s executive director, Michael Catania, said he was surprised by the ruling but the foundation “obviously would respect” the court order.

“We believed we were fully within our rights to do the demolition, and we are looking forward to having this matter resolved,” he said.

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The foundation received a demolition permit for the project in January but agreed to delay the work while the matter went through the courts. Some pre-demolition work had been done.

The Doris group has called on the foundation to explore several possible re-adaptive uses for the mansion that they say would generate income and attention. It has fought the demolition for several months and turned to the courts after the Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission approved the demolition plans in October.

Duke’s father, James Buchanan Duke, assembled the Tudor-style estate, beginning with a 144-hectare farm on a picturesque stretch of the Raritan River. He acquired 40 adjacent farms in the following years, expanding the total coverage of Duke Farms to 890 hectares by the early 1900s.

Foundation officials have said they planned to open about 20 hectares at Duke Farms to the public if the demolition were approved. That property, which surrounds the home and is now fenced off, includes waterfalls, a lake and a meditation garden.