Tobacco heiress Doris Duke began two love affairs while on her honeymoon in 1935. First she fell for Islamic art, a passion she discovered while traveling through the Middle East with husband James Cromwell; then came her seduction by Hawaii, the final stop on their journey. Duke bought five acres of oceanfront land near Diamond Head in Honolulu and built Shangri La for $1.4 million, making it the most expensive residential property in the territory.
Last November, two weeks before what would have been Duke's 90th birthday, Shangri La opened to the public as a museum of Islamic art.
A partnership of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the museum begins a new, posthumous chapter in the life of the reclusive philanthropist.
The 3,500 artifacts, dating from the 7th to the 20th century, are integrated into Shangri La's architecture, an eclectic blend of modern, Islamic, and Spanish Mediterranean. With architect Marion Sims Wyeth, Duke built her house and collection with a keen aesthetic. Thirteenth-century Persian tile, embroidered textiles from Central Asia, Syrian chests inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and Moroccan wooden grillwork are among the treasures that dazzle from the first step into the foyer.
In the living room, a glass wall disappears into the basement at the push of a button. A prayer niche called a mihrab, a 13th-century religious structure from a tomb, appears past the living room, aligned toward Diamond Head instead of Mecca. Tours, $25 per person, begin at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, with transportation to and from the site. For reservations (required), call (866) 385-3849 or visit www.honoluluacademy.org .
Photography by: Ann Cecil
This article was first published in July 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.