HILLSBOROUGH: More than 2,700 sign online petition asking to save Doris Duke’s home

By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
More than 2,700 people have signed at online petition asking that the main residence at Duke Farms be saved from destruction.
The petition at change.org was begun to be circulated before the July 30 meeting of the Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission, which must approve the request for a demolition permit because the property lies in one of the township’s historic districts.
Hillsborough resident Suzanne Ochse said Monday she sent a letter Monday to Edward P. Henry, president, and other trustees of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation asking that the request for a demolition permit be withdrawn and measures be taken to save and restore the home of James Buchannan Duke and his daughter, Doris, who came to be known worldwide for her philanthrophy.
She noted that testimony at the hearing said the foundation thought it wiser to invest resources into saving the Coach Barn, off Duke’s Parkway East. She asks rhetorically why both the Main Residence and the Coach Barn could not be given priority.
“There was also testimony about Doris Duke’s will in that she did not give specific instructions about the Main Residence other than giving full discretion to you, the trustees. In her widest dreams, she would have never expected that her trustees would demolish her lifelong home,” wrote Ms. Ochse.
Here is a copy of a letter sent to Edward P. Henry, president, and other members of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Trustees, in New York City:
 “This is a plea to you, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Trustees, to reconsider your decision to demolish the Main Residence at Duke Farms, the lifelong home of Doris Duke. There is still time for you to withdraw the demolition permit. The next meeting of the Hillsborough Historic Commission to continue the demolition application hearing is scheduled for Sept. 24.
“There is a public outcry about your demolition permit request. More than 50 people attended the July 30 Hillsborough Historic Commission meeting and more than 2,700 people already signed an on-line petition to save the Main Residence. The link to the petition is at: https://www.change.org/p/duke-farms-foundaton-preserve-the-duke-mansion. An article about the July 30th Historic Commission hearing of your request to demolish Doris Duke’s home is available at: http://www.centraljersey.com/news/hillsborough_beacon/hillsborough-hearing-on-requst-to-demolish-doris-duke-s-home/article_87558b62-37b2-11e5-906f-b7da262d5f4b.html
“At the July 30th Hillsborough Historic Commission meeting, your historic consultant testified that the Main Residence was not historically significant and would not qualify for a national designation. Therefore, in her opinion, it can be demolished. Much of the consultant’s testimony heralded the renovations and additions completed during the lifetime of Doris Duke’s father, “Buck” Duke. The consultant discounted all of the work on the house conducted by Doris Duke. In fact, the consultant indicated that due to the renovations done by Doris Duke, it confirms that the house is ineligible for national designation.
“Your expert’s testimony is troubling especially by discounting all of the renovations by Doris Duke. Regardless of being ineligible for national recognition, saving the Main Residence has major historical significance for the community of Hillsborough, Somerset County and for the state of New Jersey, as well as for the legacy of Doris Duke. National designation is actually beside the point.
“At the meeting, the Duke Farms officials testified that they would rather put resources into preserving the Coach Barn — which was described as Buck Duke’s clubhouse — than in saving the Main Residence. This too is troubling. Again, discounting Doris Duke by demolishing her home and giving priority to the Coach Barn. Why can’t both structures be given priority?
“In further testimony, the Duke Farms officials speculated that when a planned mansion was built, Buck Duke probably would have torn down the Main Residence. This is not a just reason to demolish the Main Residence. This again discounts the life and legacy of Doris Duke. It is entirely possible, that the Main Residence would have been given to Doris Duke as her home — not torn down by Buck Duke. As it turned out, the mansion was not built and the Main Residence was the place Doris Duke considered home since childhood and throughout her entire life.
“There was also testimony about Doris Duke’s will in that she did not give specific instructions about the Main Residence other than giving full discretion to you, the trustees. In her widest dreams, she would have never expected that her trustees would demolish her lifelong home.
“A telling example of Doris Duke’s love for this Hillsborough property and its structures was her action to preserve the wall along Route 206. When the state of New Jersey was planning to widen the road and remove part of the wall, Doris Duke appealed the plan and thus the state reconfigured its plan, thereby saving the wall. This small act demonstrates her love and concern for this Hillsborough property. One could only imagine what her reaction would be of your plans to demolish the Main Residence, the place she called home.
“Duke Farms estimates that the cost to restore the Main Residence to be between $10 and $20 million. It should be noted that the Main Residence has been “mothballed“ for over 10 years. The only maintenance that occurred was to clean out the gutters and leave the heat on low. Now is the time to invest in renovating the Main Residence. With years of neglect, it is about time. If the foundation does not have the funds for this project, there are county, state and federal grants available. Also, a nominal visitor’s fee to use Duke Farms could be charged on a temporary basis until sufficient funds are raised. Currently there are about 500,000 annual visitors to Duke Farms.
“The Duke Farms officials testified that they have no use for the Main Residence and so they want to demolish it. Surely, there are many viable uses that can be explored by the trustees and others. A possible use is for a cultural center. Have a competition. Hold a fundraising design show, such as Blairsden in Peapack-Gladstone. The possibilities are endless; all of which could easily fit with the mission of Doris Duke.
“Restore Doris Duke’s lifelong home. Don’t demolish it. Withdraw your demolition permit.
“As the trustees of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, you have the discretion to save the home of Doris Duke, the benefactor of your organization. Please preserve and honor her legacy. Please withdraw the demolition permit for now. Don’t make a hasty decision before options can be explored working together with the community and interested parties.”

— Suzanne Ochse 

Hillsborough 