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RENOVATION REPORT: Duke Mansion gets facelift for 100th birthday

Photo by Tony Brown

Photo by Tony Brown

James Buchanan Duke – call him Buck – is known as an industrial pioneer. But he didn’t actually pioneer so much as use money to acquire the pioneers and put his name on their work. So we’ll call him instead a pioneer financier.

In 1885, The Durham-born Duke bought the license for the first patented automated machine for making cigarettes, and in the 1890s bought out the competition to create a monopoly.

In 1905, he infused the fledgling Catawba Power Co. – now Duke Energy – with enough cash to buy control of all hydroelectric power generation on the Catawba River. In 1924, the year he founded the Duke Foundation, he put enough money into Trinity College to cause it to become Duke University.

And in 1919, he bought one of Charlotte’s biggest and fanciest houses, and later tripled the size to 32,000 square feet. It has forever been known as Duke Mansion, at Ardsley and Hermitage roads in Myers Park.

Fortunately, the man in charge of that renovation was C.C. Hook, one of Charlotte’s most famous architects, who had designed the original house; today you can’t tell where the house ends and the mansion begins.

Now come the nonprofit Lee Institute – named for former Duke Power CEO Bill Lee – Laurie Durden Garden Design, Providence Landscape Group and custom homebuilder Steve Kaleel of Kaleel Builders Inc., all based in the Queen City.

Together they are orchestrating a $1.6 million renovation of the house and gardens, much of which has been completed in advance of next year’s observation of the house’s 100th anniversary, and the rest to be completed by Jan. 1, 2016.

The house has been “painted from stem to stern,” said Pat Martin, development director of the Lynwood Foundation, which operates the Lee Institute, which owns the mansion and operates its historical and botanical programming and its wedding and event rentals that support those programs.

Most of the interior renovations “you’ll never be able to see,” Martin said, because they consist of HVAC- and plumbing-type upgrades, although some of the public spaces have been spruced up because “we’ve been open to the public for 15 years,” and that takes a toll.

Laurie Durden is transforming what Martin characterizes as “the yard” – and at 4.5 acres, quite a yard – into a “master-planned garden.” Most of it will be executed over the winter by outdoor contractor Providence Landscape Group, “longtime partners of ours,” Martin said.

Homebuilder Kaleel is acting as unofficial general contractor for work on the house, in charge of organizing a team of subcontractors.

“The goal,” Martin said, “is that everything be amazing.”

Surely Buck Duke, were he around, would be proud to contribute to the $5 million campaign, $3.4 of which will be added to existing funds to form a $10 million endowment for operational support of the mansion.

In which case, it could be called the Duke Duke Mansion.

Project: Duke Mansion landscape and house renovation

Address: 400 Hermitage Road, Charlotte

Start date: January 2013

Projected completion: January 2016

Designer: Laurie Durden Garden Design

General Contractors: Providence Landscape Group and Kaleel Builders Inc.


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