Doris Duke's Derelict Mansion to Meet Its End

Commission OKs plan to raze the 67K-square-foot New Jersey home
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 16, 2015 9:39 AM CDT
Doris Duke's Derelict Mansion to Meet Its End
Partially hidden by trees, the sprawling main mansion of the Duke Farms estate is shown in this Sept. 20, 2015, photo in Hillsborough Township, NJ.   (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

A 67,000-square-foot derelict mansion on a sprawling New Jersey estate where tobacco heiress Doris Duke lived can be demolished, a panel ruled. The Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission rendered its decision with a 6-1 vote after a four-hour meeting Thursday night, culminating a lengthy hearing process that had taken place over the last few months and drawn dozens of people. The Duke Farms Foundation had sought to demolish the mansion, which has been empty since Duke's death in 1993 at age 80. They said the building, erected in 1893, had fallen into disrepair and that it would take $10 million to $20 million to bring it up to code.

Duke's father, James Buchanan Duke, assembled the Tudor-style estate, beginning with a 357-acre farm on a picturesque stretch of the Raritan River. He eventually acquired 40 adjacent farms in the following years, expanding the total acreage of Duke Farms to 2,200 acres by the early 1900s. Architectural historian Emily Cooperman told the board Thursday that the house was a "white elephant" and the Duke Farms property as a whole was more significant. The lone commissioner to vote against demolishing the house said, "History will judge us, and I think this is a mistake, guys." Foundation officials have said they planned to open about 50 acres at Duke Farms to the public if the demolition was approved. That property, which surrounds the home and is now fenced off, includes waterfalls, a lake, and a meditation garden. (Read more Doris Duke stories.)

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