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In New York, a Duke Home Turns 100

The Duke House is being feted in New York City as it turns 100 years old

The Duke House, New York City
The Duke House, New York City

Duke University benefactor James B. Duke had a soft spot for grand architecture and a good party. The turn-of-the-century tobacco magnate built the New York City mansion, the Duke House, so he and his second wife, Nanaline, could participate in New York City's vibrant social scene, according to Doris Duke Collection archivist Mary Samouelian.

The house turns 100 this year and New York University's Institute of Fine Arts (IFA), to whom the Duke family donated the building in 1958, is holding a two-day conference about its history and significance.

About two dozen scholars will attend the Feb. 1-2 conference at the house at the corner of East 78th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Patricia Rubin, the Institute of Fine Arts director who co-organized the conference, said the mansion has served as a place of discovery for students since the Duke family donated it to NYU.

"The James B. Duke house is one of New York's finest surviving Belle Epoque mansions," Rubin said. "[IFA] students have made many interesting discoveries about the design and decoration of the building. I, myself, look forward to learning what we have discovered."

Duke House was designed by architect Horace Trumbauer, who also designed much of Duke University's West Campus. Samouelian toured the James B. Duke house earlier this year with IFA doctoral candidate Daniella Berman, who will present her research on the mansion at the conference. Although many of the rooms have been converted to study spaces, the mansion retains the feeling of a home, Samouelian said.

"If you go into it now, there's a library and study spaces," she said. "When I visited, I saw students studying in J.B. Duke's bedroom. You could still tell that it used to be a bedroom, even though kids are studying in there. It's a fascinating building and I'm very excited that they're celebrating it."