Op Orchid: Reflections on Doris

Apparently three years later we still must be reminded that the actions of the Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission were ‘justified’ on the night of the vote to demolish Duke Mansion. I woke up to such a post today and wished I could just fall aslseep and start over. Of course, the internet captures the best and worst of people, and no amount of sleep can change that.

So let’s jitterbug into this junk. Retro revivalism, just as a recap, is centralized onto the idea that what is old can be integrated into what is new- and here lies Duke Estate in Hillsborough NJ, whose historic signfiicance (though debated) is a prime (and continuously missed) opportunity to create new ideas upon while honoring those roots. With the post occuring nearly three years later, this raises serious eyebrows regardless of what our readers’ positions are on the matter. Here is the quote as it appeared, as sharp as a razor. We have respectfully omitted the name of the post writer.

“Life’s little ironies”, indeed. This house has been sold. The new owner has handed over the restoration to an architect and a general contractor who have each won awards for their work restoring and preserving historic buildings. They have said that they NEVER see a brick house from this time period (1803) in such beautiful condition. I am predicting this restoration will win a preservation award from Somerset County when it is complete.

By the way, if you read to the end of the article please make note, Doris Duke had several mansions, not one, two of which she specifically wished to be preserved – Newport and Hawaii.”

First of all, credit is given where credit is due; honesty is a cornerstone of our retro life. Yes, Miss Duke did have several mansions. Specification to ‘preserve’ is too ambitious of a claim for this person to make because the will of Miss Duke was arbitrary according to testimony, which is most likely due to modifications made when Doris was incapacitated and left her care to her seedy butler. This too, was dismissed many years ago. The problem we have here is that Duke only had one estateThere were two other structures that she maintained in her will (Hawaii and Newport), but only one location was all-encompassing. While Shangri La of Honolulu and Rough Point of Newport both boast architectural significance and historic designation as individual residence structures, Duke Farms of Hillsborough boasts dozens of significant, contributing structures that created New Jersey’s last intact estate.

To compare the estate, (which was residence to two significant figures, hosted guests of significance routinely, and offered a fascinating model for estate life that included private residences, staffing, public programs and access, as well as commerce), to a single-family residence from almost 80 years prior in its time of construction is liek comparing the talent of a singer to the talent of a needlepointer. They are similar, but their compositions are simply different.

Seeking validation in this manner is not exactly what we would expect, particularly if something wasn’t weighing heavily on someone’s mind. Especially after so much time has passed, it becomes a curiosity that these committeemen still attach to the topic. The good news is that it remains clear that the actions that were made clearly won’t be forgotten any time soon.

Maybe someday the Duke Estate will find its way to its former glory. Until then, the memories of its demise still taste like vinegar to us all.

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