Posted in Operation ORCHID

Op. Orchid: Embracing Old Scars

I had the distinct pleasure of beginning a photography initiative at the Duke Estate alongside wonderful people this week. In an effort to spread awareness of the management of historic properties in America and what it takes to save them- one timeless place at a time.

As a very brief background, the USA is one of a very small number of countries in the modernized world that still treats its historic buildings and homes like outdated garbage. In other established countries like France, England, Belize, and Japan, the demolition of historic or contributing historic/antiquated properties is far less frequent in comparison. Why is this?

America prides itself partly on being bigger, more modernized, and improved- which means cleaning up ‘blemishes’ or ‘unsightly’ reminders that we participated in less-sophisticated times. It’s a silly thing, really. We do the same thing with scars by putting all kinds of expensive creams on them to make them go away- to erase any physical reminders that we experienced something in the past. Why does it all have relevance to Duke’s Estate? It appears as though they have attempted to put vanishing cream of their own on several of the artifacts from this week’s voyages.

Let’s take for instance (1) the heron statues at the site of the mansion, (2) the original south gate gatehouse being completely revised and (3) the rusty original iron gates that now sit behind the coach barn. It seems like new and not-comperable changes are considered ‘necessary modifications’. While they are well-intended, these particularly strike the RRBlog staff as short-changing the historic integrity of this magnificent property. Author’s note: the featured banner image in this post also includes

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The twin herons are actually part of a much larger structure- a double circle fountain- that once flanked a beautiful glass-paned room of Duke Mansion. For the greater part of the recorded local history, these herons were colored green with a naturally-occuring patina of sorts. In propaganda photos for the demolition (2015-2016), these herons are noted for their wingless nature- but even then- they were aqua green like the Statue of Liberty. Today, they stand restored, wings clearly attached, but repainted to resemble real herons but somehow standing out against the rest of the property’s natural aging. While it’s not the worst thing by far, it’s clearly not blended with the property’s flow.

gatesThe south gate gatehouse is actually news to me, despite it making perfect sense. Likely in attempt to accommodate larger numbers of guests for 2012’s restructuring, the original gate house at this location was taken out in exchange for a pedestrian gate to supplement its wider automatic counterpart. Once again, I have to ask what was so wrong with what was there before. …Probably nothing, but restoration is a scarce commodity.
28928140_1579379625516461_1136426925_o.jpgFinally I was particularly disturbed when I sought refuge in the women’s restroom behind the coach barn. When I went up the stairs, something made me turn to the right, where my eyes locked on a bright orange rust color. It wasn’t just the color, but the shape that made me stop paying attention to my needs. Within a small fenced-in area, a set of beautifully-crafted gates leaned sideways in a lonesome, tired fashion. There was something familiar about them, although no one in my walking party could place them. From the thorough rust, it was only evident that they were definitely original to the estate. Once again, this begs the question of why, when a nonprofit is as financially loaded as Duke’s, doesn’t it spend the money on restoring these and reusing them to maintain originality and design? If we slowly replace or redesign the elements that make a property unique, we will be left with no original fabric of it’s intricately-woven tapestry of landscape features and components.

What is the real point of using these vanishing cream method if it is such a compromise of individuality? Arguably, this is one of the methods of historic ‘preservation’ that simply isn’t preservation, it’s modernist replacement.

Posted in Operation ORCHID

Operation ORCHID: Footnote #98

Recently the world has been made a smaller place for those in the grassroots. Despite the challenges and road block-esque situation that we face in attempting to preserve a legacy here in South Somerville, there has been resonance across our allies. Most recently, Philanthropy Daily’s writer, Martin Morse Wooster published his latest work titled, How Great Philanthropists Failed & How you Can Succeed at Protecting Your Legacy. We do not find it ironic or coincidental that this book has been published after Wooster’s input was given to the tragic case of the Duke Mansion’s demolition, which began its trials in Summer 2015. His article from March 31st, 2016 sheds a clear light on his position toward the proprietors of the estate as he asks in rhetoric, “How do you honor your founder’s memory by tearing down her house? That’s a question the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has to answer.” Wooster continues his monologue to include what can be learned from Duke Farms’ shameful example citing that, “the case of Doris Duke’s house reminds donors to put all restrictions in writing. ” (Wooster, 2016).

The answer to his rhetoric is simple. Tearing down the childhood home and countryside endeavor of the benefactors of Duke Farms is not any appropriate way of honoring the Dukes themselves. If anything, it translates to a rude, shameless ‘screw you’. The mission statement of Duke Farms can arguably have been lost in translation as well. Anyone can observe its modifications since established around 2003.

Fast forward to January 16th, 2018: Wooster takes to the press again in a small press run of his most recent book. In its pages he cites articulately how the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has succeeded in failing its benefactors. He cites DORIS and how the public attempted to remedy the issues that plague the foundation through their attack on Duke Mansion. He even honors The Duchess of South Somerville, a memoir collection and brief history of Duke’s recent past in footnote 98.

Despite the narrow outreach that ORCHID currently has, the message is heard loud and clear across a spectrum of different audiences: the removal of Duke Mansion and the systemic neglect across the property is not acceptable.

So let’s get educated and share in the historic revolution that has begun to erupt in New Jersey. For purchasing information on either piece of literature, please visit the following links:
Click Here for Martin Wooster’s Book

Click Here for The Duchess Book