Posted in Operation ORCHID, The Trials of Doris

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.

Posted in Operation ORCHID, The Publications, The Trials of Doris

Op. Orchid: Bringing Down The House

Upon walking through the towering gates, the newly opened site formerly containing Doris Duke’s home, the winding path let to the remnants of Ms. Duke’s home, some stone steps and what could be summarized as an otherwise mostly vacant field. Walking up the path revealed some stone fixtures; the leftover parcels of the structure of the Duke Mansion in Hillsborough NJ. Even with snow decorating them they reflected a grace, age, and majesty that these stone fixtures had led to before the adamant efforts of the Duke Farms Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to demolish the beloved home of their founder. These organizations were claiming a decade of research into alternative uses for the home was made, bringing no documentation or proof of these efforts, only providing a powerpoint made by someone hired by the foundation, to trials determining the house’s fate.

Walking up the stairs I couldn’t help but tell my wonderful companion that maybe we should try to knock where the doors would have been, just in case. You could likely guess that there was no invisible Duke Mansion there, but there is an entire field with some circular fountain beds with freshly painted birds in the middle of the fountains, while looking new not in any way matching the patina of the rest of the property.  In the case of the Garden of Nations remainder, there’s too much patina, wood rot, and gaps in the outer integrity of the structure. Oh the irony.

I could be quoted saying “You know what would be really nice here? A HOUSE!”. Walking around the grounds previously occupied by the home of Doris Duke, there was a somber feeling in my chest as if the nearly vacant space was reflective of the hole I felt in my chest. It feels as if I’m visiting the grave of someone whom I had been trying to save, but couldn’t be saved because of the slow train coming that had no intention of stopping with this person in the way of the tracks they have laid. On a gentle slope going away from the plain at the center of the location, there is a bit of a grotto, a pleasant small body of water that I could imagine was a peaceful and serene spot for Ms. Duke when her home was on the grounds of her estate.

Most upsetting for me is the gall of all parties involved in the previous and concurrent attempts at assassination of the Duke family history and the legacy of Doris Duke. A plaque on the site of Doris Duke’s home reads (in reference to this site) “Doris Duke’s seasonal residence”, an improvement to DFF’s use of the phrase “Former main residence” (when referring to the two story hole in the ground as the main residence). Upon this plaque are images of other homes that Duke would visit when she wasn’t in her home and main residence in Hillsborough NJ (the one that’s not a large hole in the ground). Below these images are the words to the effect of; Doris Duke left specific instructions for her other properties, Shangra La, and Rough Point. This is the boldest of the falsehoods shared by DFF in their failure to honor their founder’s mission and purpose for founding the DFF and DDCF. According to Christie’s Auction, “it was Duke Farms she truly considered ‘home’ “.

It is important to note that during proceedings in attempts to preserve the Duke mansion the DFF had the copy of the will of Doris Duke submitted into evidence struck from the record. In the will, that they fail to correctly reference on the plaque commemorating the demolished home of their founder, it states that she expects her organizations to maintain and preserve all of her properties, stating the term “preservation” and other words to that effect several times while there is a single demolition clause much later in the will which is not quite specific either, clearly Duke had hoped her foundations would honor her legacy.



Posted in The Trials of Doris

The Trials of Doris: Operation Orchid

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!

Posted in The Trials of Doris

Trials of Doris: Hide N’ Seek

Hello darling readers! This weekend marks a long-overdue reveal at the Duke Estate in New Jersey: the 50-or-so acres that housed the iconic, likely-historic mansion of the late tobacco baroness, Doris Duke. Once the richest girl in the world is now the victim of her own foundation’s ethical debacle. It is still hotly debated whether the mansion’s demolition was an act of honest decision or to pursue personal interests of the foundation’s executives. The grassroots movement, DORIS (demolition of residence is senseless) maintains that the entire motion was a rude notion to erase Duke’s memory from the very property she called home.

The full article, provided by Mike Deak of the Courier News, is available here:

So what will be on the site of the ‘ramshackle’ mansion? Nothing. The oldest and possibly most historically valuable building (as defined by the foundation’s criteria, not the criteria of the National Trust), the boathouse, will be used as a bathroom. Care to stay classy? The former Japanese gardens, whose specimens of plants were not indigenous to New Jersey as the mission statement boasts, has been altered from its intended, modified, cultural landscape.

It is critical to note that the mansion, whose only real damage was its reputation, was not a pastiche or ramshackle, but instead a treasure trove of styles from select masters of architecture. This timeline of styles and craftsmanship was the only one of its kind, and was lost to the very foundation entrusted to care for the property in late March 2016.

What can be done from here? What can be salvaged from this seemingly-systematic decomposition of a cultural landscape, historic estate, and home of one of America’s most elite families? The answer is surprising, but there is much to be done and a whole landscape still in jeopardy while in the ‘care’ of those who ‘maintain’ it. The half-truths can’t hide their other halves forever. So it’s a precarious game of hide and seek.

Stay tuned for the latest in learning how (and how not) to integrate modern life, green living, and historic integrity through the model of the Duke Estate through the efforts of Operation ORCHID~ Stay curious, darlings!


Posted in The Trials of Doris

Trials of Doris: Cracks in the Cornerstone

So as usual I find myself (Harpie, this time) compelled to wander the lavish Duke Estate on the hottest and most isolated day of this week. Thankfully, I was in good company. Despite starting the day out without a tram service (which is fine, not many people were there, admittedly, but still…) This particular day was the first time either of us had been to visit the cemetary that Miss Duke kept for her beloved animals, which included her camels, Princess and Baby. There was a common theme that emerged on this crispy September day: it appeared rather clearly to both of us that the stonework incorporated into the landscape has become broadly neglected… or at least profoundly disregarded either on purpose or otherwise.

Since our first stop was the Fox Hollow hill where the pets were laid to rest, it was a shady and cool walk. I noticed right away as we rounded the curve that these stones were mostly made of slim black stones with names stenciled into them in weatherproof white ink. What struck me in this area of the property was the sadness of each stone left in pieces in the grass, some with portions of the headstone still standing and the broken fragments sitting at their base. Perhaps with too much empathy, I thought of my own parakeet’s little marker and how devastated my family would be if something happened. Needless to say, it would be rapidly replaced or fixed. I’m not seeing the same sense of immediacy here, which is troubling since this is the illustration of Miss Duke’s love for animals- it was only the greatest devotion she had at Duke Farms besides plant life.

In walking back from the cemetary, I wondered if our old friend, Mr. stone balluster was ever fixed. Then, I realized, most likely not if this is a pattern of behaviors. I could argue all my life that this is a maneuvered landscape and that these stones that Mr. Duke himself laid are respectfully integrated into any environmental concepts to be applied, I’m still falling on deaf ears and cold feet.

Time to go home already? Sadly, yes. Today was a shorter-than-normal visit. We cut through the stairs to the old foundation and here is where I may have gotten most frustrated. Not only were the stones previously mentioned in need of serious love and attention, but the edges of the old foundation’s series of stairs were separating from one another at the seams. This one really tugged on both our heartstrings because of just how much this old foundation was used for in its lifetimes. It has the mark of James B Duke, Doris, the staff, James Cromwell, and a bunch of stories attached to each of them. It feels like the very essence of the Dukes is crumbling, literally away in the very property it was meant to be heralded at. This wasn’t just one instance: these fractures in the stone work were evident on each set of stairs we walked down.

Now really, I get it. It’s an expense. Everything in the world costs something if it’s worth doing. Trust me, we are young people who cringe at the word ‘afford’. But let’s change the perspective and the lens for a moment and put that cognitive therapy education to good use: What if you were alive during the estate’s most magnificent years when Miss Duke was in residence? How would you feel after years of natural decay occuring to a place you once called home? It hurts! People feel for this place and there are dozens of instances where historical integration into the landscape is an environmentally appropriate approach (consistent with the status quo at the farms today). Take fiscal challenge on and take a little extra to keep the property from falling apart… gradually. Last I remember, this is called neglect.

Losing more roof panels and watching that bowing occur…. Very sad stuff

Stay curious and stand against wrongful erasure of out history. #RetroLife #VintageLife

Posted in The Trials of Doris

Trials of Doris: Is it Collusion?

This week in the Trials of Doris, we learned of a ‘leak’ in local documents that led the DORIS group to discuss a curious case from April. This April, the Hillsborough Historic Preservation Commission held its status quo meeting on the 27th, but with some oddities. Duke Farms was present and recieved unanimous votes from the commission to pass pre-application approvals for a series of ‘minor’ projects at Duke Farms. While this is acknowledged as a private property, the accessibility is public; therefore the public should and/or could have had better notice of their requests and the date of this HPC meeting. We have elected to videodocument this case because of the lengthiness and details regarding these three projects as well as the unusual, if not outright sneaky, conduct of the HPC that month. Readers can view our clip below.

While the RRBlog is not currently placing accusations on the Farms or the township’s historic preservation commission, we are considerably concerned for the methods that were used… and how long it took for anyone to notice. That doesn’t scream ‘transparency’ to us. Stay curious!

Posted in The Trials of Doris

The Trials of Doris: *Another* Nomination

This week in the Trials of Doris series, we are thrilled to announce that the latest piece of literature covering the Duke Estate’s story, The Duchess of South Somerville, has been nominated three times for the IPPY Awards 2018!

In the midst of all things retro, out antiquated antics summer series, and our 100th post; this comes as a humbling and exciting piece of news for the grassroots. While the mansion at the iconic Duke Estate was lost to the bulldozers hired by Duke Farms Foundation (it’s owner) and the parent charity, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in 2016, the story of the fight lives on as a testament to the original intent of Doris Duke. While it may seem like a lost battle, the IPPY-nominated book serves to chronicle the lesser-known chapters of history at the estate; memoirs of those whose lives were touched by the Dukes, former employees’ stories, and the efforts of the DORIS group have all been chronicled for the first and only time in this unique read.

For more information on The Duchess of South Somerville, or to obtain your own copy, please visit the Duchess Bookstore website:

Through December 31st of 2017, the book will be discounted to $19.95 to celebrate the amazing nominations!