Court allows Doris Duke mansion demolition to continue in Hillsborough
HILLSBOROUGH — Demolition work will now be allowed to resume at a New Jersey mansion once owned by tobacco heiress and socialite Doris Duke.
A state appellate court on Friday removed an emergency stay that was issued March 6 at the request of a community group that's been fighting for months to stop the work. The panel said the group failed to show "a reasonable probability of ultimate success" with their case against The Duke Farms Foundation.
It wasn't clear Saturday when the demolition work would resume. A large portion of the mansion had been torn down the day before the emergency stay was issued earlier this month.
"We are grateful that the courts agreed with us," Michael Catania, the foundation's executive director, said Saturday. "We are hoping to get started again (on the demolition) in the near future, but we haven't set a schedule yet."
The 67,000-square-foot mansion has been empty since Duke's death in 1993. Foundation officials say it is in disrepair and would take at least $10 million to fix.
The mansion is on a massive property known as Duke Farms, which remains open and free to the public as an ecological preserve with walking and cycling trails, greenhouses and a community garden. Doris Duke's last will and testament called for Duke Farms to be used to serve the environment but made no specific mention of what should be done with the home.
David Brook, a lawyer and a leader of the community group Demolition of Residence is Senseless, or DORIS, said the group has the option to take its case for an emergent motion to the New Jersey Supreme Court. However, he said that was not likely to happen.
"This is a sad day for us, for Hillsborough, for everyone involved," in this matter, Brook said Saturday.
The group does plan to continue with its appeal of other court decisions that allowed the demolition to occur, and Brook said he has asked the foundation to voluntarily delay the demolition until the appeals process is complete.
Brook said that if victorious, the group will demand that the mansion be restored to its original state.
During the legal battle, the 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 357-acre farm on a picturesque stretch of the Raritan River. He acquired 40 adjacent farms in the following years, expanding the total acreage of Duke Farms to 2,200 by the early 1900s.
Foundation officials have said they planned to open an additional 50 acres at Duke Farms to the public if the demolition were approved. That portion of the property, which surrounds the home and is now fenced off, includes waterfalls, a lake and a meditation garden.