Saturday, November 20, 2010

Things to Do: Doris Duke's Shangri-La


The mere mention of Shangri-La conjures up images of an isolated, mountain utopia hidden in the Himalayas made famous by the book Lost Horizon by James Hilton.  This isn't a mythical valley hidden in the mountains, but a mansion below Diamond Head Crater.  It's tucked away behind gates and hedges of this sleepy Kahala community, occupying 5 acres of beach front property that was the primary residence of the late Doris Duke.

Like the Himalayas, you need a guide if you want to tour Shangri-La or the only thing you'll see is the door.  Notice the intricate metal work on the door.  This is just one example of the Middle Eastern art collected by Mrs. Duke throughout the years.

It is the collection of Middle Eastern art and architecture that put this place on the map.  Small guided tours are only arranged through the Honolulu Academy of Arts, but no sherpas accompany you and reservations (see link) are a must.  Tours are given from Wednesday through Saturday at 8:30 am, 11:30 am, and 1:30 pm and take about 1-1/2 hours.  You meet at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and take a shuttle to the house.

Typically, you need to call or email anywhere from one week to one month in advance.  The price of the tour are $25 and also includes admission to the Academy of Arts and you could make lunch reservations at the Pavilion Cafe.

If you don't want to wait, you can also take the virtual tour, but you miss out on the sights like the small harbor built for Doris Duke's yacht.  


Doris Duke was the wealthy heiress of the late tobacco and hydro-electric energy magnate, James Buchanan Duke.  Duke and his colleagues started the Duke Power Company, which eventually became part of Duke Energy.  She inherited her fortune upon the early death of her father at the age of 12, but was not involved in any of her father's businesses.  As a socialite, she later met and married James Cromwell.  They traveled the world on their honeymoon, stopping by the Middle East, India, and Hawaii.  They enjoyed their stay in Hawaii so much they extended their honeymoon by 4 months.  During that time, Doris Duke and James Cromwell purchased 5 acres of beach front property and commissioned construction of what is now Shangri-La. 


Despite the modest entrance, it leads to a foyer of an incredible collection of Middle Eastern tiles, lamps, and rugs.  The foyer leads down to a ornate courtyard with a central garden and fountain.  Unfortunately, picture taking is not permitted in the rooms, so you just have to take the tour to see it.

Shangri-La cannot match the sheer size of the Hearst Castle (Hearst had a master floor instead of a master room) or pieces of art (over 25,000 works).  They do however, share a fireplace.  In the living room is a decorative fireplace.  Doris Duke was known for giving to charities and bought that fireplace from the William Randolph Hearst Bankruptcy Auction.  

There's nothing like this view....
...from this couch.

And there is the garden.  There were citrus trees at the end of the fountain, but a plague decimated the citrus plants several years ago.  The estate has been trying to grow flowering plants in their place and maybe when you visit they'll be blooming.  That's all for today.

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