On December 11th, the flavor of the Duke legacy shifted under our feet. It has been a year since the permission was granted to demolish Doris Duke’s beautiful and unique mansion on her New Jersey property. Doris herself was celebrated at Rough Point in Rhode Island during her 105th birthday this past month. Members of the Hillsborough and Somerset County communities still feel the palpable wounds left behind in place where her home- the principle domicile of the richest girl in the world, the main residence of the billionaire baroness Doris Duke- once stood empty and waiting for its fate to be determined.
In Hillsborough, once known as South Somerville, changes and empowerment are brewing into a flavorful stew. Instead of observing the property as it experiences crumbling balustrades and pets’ headstones, a rapidly-decaying glass house, and other seemingly forgotten artifacts; I decided that it was time to incite new determination to the public to demand a greater exhibition of the fullest known Duke legacy at Duke Farms. With the help of a great book, The Duchess of South Somerville, we brought the discussion into public forum for the first time since the court hearings over two years ago. No taboo, no beating around the bush. December 11th was a night of total transparency and awareness- it already felt like I had done the right thing.
In reflecting back on the evening’s discussions, I have to thank the attendees and patrons of the library for making it such a great success. There was so much fascination with the estate, the Dukes, and how much they belong in our darling central Jersey story. It seemed like everyone left with some inspiration, some direction, and some hope for the future visions for the property. Going forward, the public has interest in seeing the greenhouses awarded their status as a preserved structure with an appropriate title: The Trumbauer-Abele Greenhouses. The plant life inside was dearly beloved by all, and we are all staggered by the decision to end their display (myself included).
Despite the harshly-felt absence of the Duke Mansion, it felt like people still cared deeply for the rest of the property, which was uplifting. Operation ORCHID kicked off on a high note with guests attaching to the idea of greater education available to the public, with interest to creating meaningful dialogue with staff and executives. The ORCHID (Organized Reform Coalition to Honor the Intent of Doris) wants to start seeing a more deliberate presence of the Dukes on their property and potentially into the community outside the estate. For a nonprofit with the net worth of the DDCF, this seems relatively feasible with some thrifty new concepts and innovative ideas. The question of how to get to this point with diplomacy and reciprocal regard is the next journey.
And so the story continues into another year as it evolves from a story of demolition and salvage into a revitalized legacy of preservation, integration of ideas, and strong new concepts with all the greatest people coming forward to share their stories and offer their alliances to Operation ORCHID. At this time, RetroRevivalBlog will be recognizing the new articles under OpOrchid instead of the Trials of Doris, which seem to have concluded as of earlier this year. We look forward to a new year full of excellence in public relations and outreach, history education and research, as well as amazing advances as we are able to share! Stay tuned!