SOMERVILLE, N.J. (AP) — Demolition work has started at a historic mansion once owned by tobacco heiress and socialite Doris Duke.
Crews were at the Hillsborough Township site on Saturday, a day after a state judge rejected a community group's bid to halt the work. Officials said a large part of the mansion has been demolished and the work was expected to be completed on Sunday.
The Duke Farms Foundation received a demolition permit for the project in January but agreed to delay the work while the matter went through the courts. There had been some pre-demolition work done.
The 67,000-square-foot mansion has been empty since Duke's death in 1993. Foundation officials said it has fallen into disrepair and would take at least $10 million to bring up to code.
The community group Demolition of Residence is Senseless, or DORIS, has called on the foundation to explore several possible re-adaptive uses for the mansion that they say would generate income and attention. It has fought the demolition for several months and turned to the courts after the Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission approved the demolition plans last October.
Group leaders had said Friday that they would appeal the judge's ruling, hoping to get an injunction to at least temporarily stop the project. But foundation officials said they planned to move quickly to complete the work.
"Everything is all perfectly legal. We have all our permits," the foundation's executive director, Michael Catania, told NJ.com. "We've been waiting for some time now. We gave the objectors their day in court. They went before the Historic Preservation Commission and three different judges. At this point, there's no point in waiting. We want to open the area up to the public as soon as possible."
Duke's father, James Buchanan Duke, assembled the Tudor-style estate, beginning with a 357-acre farm on a picturesque stretch of the Raritan River. He acquired 40 adjacent farms in the following years, expanding the total acreage of Duke Farms to 2,200 by the early 1900s.
Foundation officials have said they planned to open about 50 acres at Duke Farms to the public if the demolition was approved. That property, which surrounds the home and is now fenced off, includes waterfalls, a lake and a meditation garden.
This story has been corrected to show Duke was an heiress and socialite, not an actress.