Duke Farms Mansion Doublespeak?

Posted: Sunday November 29, 2015

Doris Duke, an American heiress. Inheritor of money, born into privilege and next in line kin celebrity living off the profits of her deceased father's American Tobacco and Duke Energy Companies fortunes. The chance of being born directly into substantial inherited wealth should not be presented with any royal significance nor boasted about. Rather, the potential of that human to then make the world a better place for others with such fortune should be the deciding factor of their faux or fact celebrity status and ultimate legacy. The history of Doris Duke reads like a fairy tale, some bullshit Disney World happy-ending fiction story telling of a brat that was handed everything in life, traveled the world and lived happily ever after. And how nice it must have been to travel the world, purchasing and collecting art, spending daddy's money while living off the back of your dead father's business treasures; not a financial worry in the world.

A philanthropist, Doris Duke is remembered, a love of humanity she expressed, yet a love for money she truly embraced and used, for humanity is certainly beautiful when you have all the money in the world to live in your own. But this fairytale doesn't matter, it never did. Doris croaked decades ago but her inherited fortunes still remain the subject of much discrepancy. As it turns out it is not what Miss Duke changed for the world with her inheritance that is being discussed, but rather what she has left behind that has become the topic of much disagreement and basis of greed.

Arguing on behalf of the ambiguity of a dead person's last will and testament serves no purpose; they're dead! Doris's ashes scattered about the Pacific Ocean have probably been consumed and pissed out by sea-creatures dozens of times over by now. Sea animals don't give a shit, but humans seem to get caught up in it. She'd want the mansion preserved, or not? Don't waste your time hypothesizing, she probably isn't going to say anything anytime soon. Instead, the reality of the situation is that with the death of a beneficiary the physical trophies acquired during their lifespan are often left to rot at the expense of greed in terms of the foundations/peoples set up and ultimately left in charge of such inheritances. For such foundations often express no actual plan of what to do with the tangible objects left behind by the deceased. Often the money is spent as pleased but the physical possessions are left to neglect. And such is the discrepancy surrounding Duke Farms and more specifically the mansion on the farm property dating back to 1893 which was once lived in by Doris Duke during her childhood but has remained vacant since her death in 1993.

Fingers of blame seem to point toward the Duke Farms Foundation (an organization set up after Doris's death to manage the remaining Duke inheritance) for taking no action in regard to preserving the mansion and thus letting it slip into ruin. However the mansion and estate does belong to those in charge at DFF and regardless of any historical attributes significant of the privately owned property, it is still up to the foundation to do, or rather do nothing as they please according to their mission in regard to their land and structures existing upon it. Right or wrong as this seems it's the harsh reality of private ownership and is certainly a huge hurdle for historical preservationists to overcome especially since a final decision to demolish the mansion has been decided upon. Such a decision was based around the the mansion supposedly being too expensive to repair because of the disrepair it has been left to fall in. Hypocritical? Perhaps. But true or not, the only aspect I know for certain is that between neglect and restoration, truth and fiction, greed and authenticity, always remain a series of lies.

In recent weeks, advocates for historical preservation with the group Demolition of Residence is Senseless (DORIS) have openly opposed demolition, utilizing a legal loophole and claiming that the demolition of the mansion including the removal of historically significant features have begun without the town issuing the proper permits first. However, Duke Farms Foundation claims that no illegal demolition has taken place and the mansion is just being cleared of any items and architectural aspects of historical significance. A seemingly hypocritical clash of standards this exists. But rather than point fingers myself I'd like see the facts. Thus I, curious mostly as to which group and/or foundation at argument is bullshitting the most, decided to discover for myself the true condition of the Duke Farms Mansion.

I personally hold no opinion in favor of demolition nor restoration. Smash the mansion down into a tick infested field or restore it into a lame tourist trap; I don't care, either outcome results in me not being able to explore the home. I'm not an advocate of Doris Duke either. For it's easy to become the richest woman in the world when all the riches are handed down to you as you're rocking in a crib and puking up breast-milk. At best she was just an efficient saver, avid gardener, globetrotter, and I'll remember her for that. My only objection stems from any historical significance of the mansion being directly correlated back to Doris Duke's inherited fortune and time spent living in the mansion. That is a sham, for no such legitimate historical significance can be directly correlated to and associated of something because of someone merely born into riches, privilege, and celebrity status having spent time there. Here is a glimpse of what I saw:

In the late 1930s a large addition was added onto the mansion. This new space known as the Hollywood Wing contained an indoor swimming pool, as well as a full-size indoor tennis court, auditorium, stage, and shooting range.

Another look at the indoor swimming pool, the plastic bags and red tape are utilized during the pre-demolition abatement process. Sans a small patch of peeling paint seen about the center-most ceiling over the pool, the room remained largely intact. Since the pool had been properly drained, there existed no visible signs of mold, water damage, or structural integrity in this section of the mansion.

An open room featuring a bizarre bamboo lined ceiling and color matching clay tiles laid about the floor, direct one through a pair of glass double doors directly into the main foyer of the mansion. Despite the removal of all furnishings, the room appeared immaculate. Void from any signs of obvious decay and any potential material containing asbestos were not exposed.

A large living room space was painted a nauseating green hue. The numerous windows provided a gorgeous view out over the wooded estate lands. The windows seemed to be poorly insulted however, as a draft could be felt seeping in. All that remained was a centermost foundation which may have been part of a larger water fountain feature at one point.

The curtains draped over the massive windows had to be at least 12 feet tall. The room smelt a bit moldy and felt damp and cold leading me to believe water had begun to work in, most likely from the ceiling which showed the most signs of decay.

A clean swept tile floor and marble fireplace. Some water and ceiling damaged can be spotted directly over the fireplace.

The prominent interior feature of the mansion were the intricate wooden handrails adorning the grand staircase which lead up the second and third floors. The dirty tan rug covering the steps was certainly dated and ragged, however the hardwood floor and carved railings remaining completely intact. No signs of water damage or warping, just a little dusty.

Making my way up to the second floor and the signs of neglect became a bit more prominent. Water saturated rugs filled the space with a musky scent, and many of the walls were severely damaged by water infiltration. The decay was limited to just certain sections of the second story however, perhaps hinting to a leaky roof.

A bathtub and sink were the only furnishing left upstairs within small red carpeted guest bedroom, perhaps to heavy to carry downstairs.

A single chain which most likely held a grand chandelier at one point dangles loosely from the ceiling within a room full with various paintings and prints. The black and white painting on the left appears to be a portrait of Doris Duke, while the colored prints on the right looked to be photographs taken from rooms within the mansion, detailing how the spaces looked when furnished.

Another look at the intricate grande staircase and pillar centered marble fireplace, both remaining in immaculate condition.

The Hollywood Wing of the mansion was certainly undergoing active demolition. The glass ceiling above the auditorium/tennis court had been completely removed, subjecting the entire space to the outdoor elements. The floor was also ripped up exposing the dirt below. Various plastic asbestos bags were also being used to contain various environmental hazards, which is a common remediation procedure.

One last look at the indoor pool, this time captured from an alternative angle revealing more signs of decay along the left exterior wall as well as some vegetation growing inside. It seems water may be seeping in through the large windows which are flush with the ground.

Much of the exterior of the mansion was entirely covered with ivy and vines, a beautiful sight but sure sign of neglect and opportunity for rodents and other small animals to make their way into the vacant house.

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