Our next stop was Doris Duke’s Shangri La, a tour that is only offered a few times a week and fills up fast, so it was the one I built our whole day around. Shangri La was the winter home of Doris Duke, who became known as The Richest Girl in the World after she inherited a tobacco fortune at the age of 12 in 1925. She eventually used her immense wealth for philanthropy and perpetual globetrotting, in addition to stints as a journalist, art collector, wildlife conservator, musician—and the first female competition surfer!
Hawaii was the last stop on her round-the-world honeymoon with first husband James Cromwell, and the couple liked the place so much they stayed for 4 months. Duke purchased nearly 5 acres of land on Diamond Head, a now unheard-of amount of property in what has become Oahu’s most exclusive neighborhood. Duke had the home designed in a Middle Eastern style and filled it with art and artifacts from her honeymoon and subsequent travels to the Middle East. This “vaguely Moroccan” connection made the tour seem a fitting activity for the fifth anniversary of our “vaguely Moroccan” wedding!
Tours are offered by the Honolulu Museum of Art from Wednesday–Saturday, and they depart from the museum. We had a somewhat stressful trip across town from Pearl Harbor to the museum due to unexpected Saturday traffic on the freeway and the scary-sounding warning about arriving late in the ticket info provided by the museum. They told us to park in the Honolulu Museum of Art School parking lot about a block away from the museum, where we wolfed down the last of our Pearl Harbor sandwiches and slathered on a fresh layer of sunscreen. The lot costs $3 for up to 4 hours of parking, unless you can’t find anyone working in the lot to pay when you get there or when you’re ready to leave, in which case it’s free!
We literally ran down the block to the museum, skidding to a halt at the ticket desk. They checked us off the list and told us the tour would be departing from this courtyard:
Except nobody showed up to check us in until about 5 minutes after the drop-dead “do not miss this or you’ll miss the tour and get no refund” time. They told us to go watch a film about Shangri La playing on a loop in one of the galleries, after which we waited another 10 or 15 minutes for the shuttle to show up. Guess they were operating on the “island time” we’d heard so much about.
The shuttle trip took 15 or 20 minutes and deposited us in the driveway of Shangri La. The tour group was split in half and led to separate spots under the ginormous Banyan tree to get pooped on by birds as we heard a little background on the house.
Our group went into what’s known as the Mughal Garden first. Opening the door to the garden was one of the tour’s two breathtaking revelations (that’s right, there was a word for that before reality TV made “reveal” into a noun!).
The garden features a view of Diamond Head (with just a bit of ocean, seen below) and is meant to be a synthesis of various royal gardens in India.
Workers are repairing the roof of the home’s master bedroom, known as the Mughal Suite, which meant we didn’t get to see it on the tour.
We were led back to the courtyard so we could enter the house through the front door.
One of the reasons Doris Duke loved Hawaii was its seclusion. She’d spent her whole life being hounded by the press, and living in Hawaii gave her some privacy. The traditional design of a Middle Eastern home features an unassuming facade that shields the home from prying eyes, which is perhaps what attracted her to the idea for her own home.
One of these camels had to be put back together again after a delivery truck backed into it. Can you tell which one?
Answer: This one. You can tell cuz he won’t shut UP about it!
We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, which I never understand, because if flash really does damage the artifacts, they should just let us take non-flash pictures. I’ll include some images from the website to try to show why we were so cracked on seeing Shangri La.
Although the decor in most of the rooms of the house sticks to one country of origin, the foyer is the one room that combines many different styles, including components from Morocco (ceiling, stained glass clerestory windows, balustrade, screen, doors, and stucco arch), Turkey (wall tiles), Iran (basins), Egypt and Syria (lamps).
I love how the stained glass clerestory windows glow!
The Shangri La Historical Archives have a surprising number of vintage photographs documenting the work, including this one that shows the ceiling when it was still in Morocco.
And the ceiling today…
Our first stop was the Damascus Room, an entire Syrian interior that was reconstructed at Shangri La. It only became open to the public in July of 2012, and they use it to display photos, letters and other ephemera from Shangri La’s historical archives.
Check out the amazingly detailed woodwork close-up!
The next stop on the tour would probably have been the Mughal Suite, but it was closed for those roof repairs you saw earlier. Here’s the exterior portion of the private hall leading to the suite, which Patrick shot while we were in the Mughal Garden.
Here’s what the interior hall looks like, courtesy of http://www.shangrilahawaii.org/.
Duke commissioned and had the Mughal Suite built in India. It was originally going to go into another home, but when she and Cromwell decided to put it in Shangri La, it inspired the Islamic theme throughout the rest of the building.
From there we backtracked to the Central Courtyard and learned a little more abotu Duke’s participation in the construction and decorating of Shangri La. Apparently she was very hands-on and, fortunately, had great taste! The only trouble with this part of the tour is that you can glimpse the ocean through one of the doorways, and all you want to do the whole time is run out and see it!
That doorway on the far left is the one you’ll be craning your neck to see out of…
From there, we were lead into the living room, and the first thing you see is this AMAZING view of Diamond Head, the pool and the ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows (which, of course, retract into the ground for better communing with nature!). I tried to find a photo online that captures what we saw, and this is the closest:
Here you can see the windows with the carved screens drawn in front of them (goodness knows why you’d ever block that view!)
Even though we’d seen tons of original artifacts, for some reason I was really struck by the fact that these are the original couches. Like, Doris Duke’s buns were HERE!
We’re big fans of Hearst Castle, so it was interesting to learn that Duke bought this fireplace off William Randolph Hearst.
At the other end of the room is a focal point nearly as captivating as the Pacific Ocean, a prayer wall known as a mihrab that dates from 13th Century Iran. Apparently it’s one of the largest and best remaining examples, and Duke had to outbid a museum to get it.
I liked this room cuz we got to sit down!
The Mihrab Room leads you into the dining room, maybe the most striking of all the rooms. Certainly the most fanciful! The tent panels you see are recent re-creations, but the originals were not put in until Duke redecorated in the ‘60s. Before that, there was an aquarium set into one of the walls.
Original Dining Room
Once we got out on the dining room’s balcony, we were OK to take photos again. They also had ice water out there for us (oh! And I forgot to mention paper fans when we entered the house, since there’s no air conditioning!).
A small garden on the other side of the dining room…
It’s interesting that here you’ve paid for this million-dollar view, but because all of Hawaii’s beaches are public, you’ve got tons of people hanging out in your “backyard”!
The pool is filled with seawater, which means it has to be drained and refilled once a week via a pump that draws from the ocean below.
We didn’t get to go in the Playhouse, Duke’s name for a structure with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and a small kitchen. Sounds like just a house to me!
These days the Playhouse is occupied by visiting scholars on research trips. Several people on our tour asked what you had to be researching to qualify. I’m guessing Underwater Basket Weaving doesn’t count…
The exterior of the Mughal Suite. Seems like it has a pretty stellar view!
Our last stop was the Syrian Room, which wasn’t added until the early ‘80s, when Doris Duke acquired late-Ottoman period wall paneling, stonework, tile and doors from NYU. This room is interesting because it’s the one most like a museum display (but we still got to sit down!). I love the fountain and the colorful lantern in the center of the room.
This is the hall of the house in Damascus where many elements of the Syrian Room came from, including the doors.
And that was the end of the tour! I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of house tours or Middle Eastern Art or just had a vaguely Moroccan wedding. You need to allow at least 2 1/2 hours, what with the travel time to and from the Honolulu Museum of Art. Wear sunscreen, good walking shoes, and a broad-brimmed, poop-deflecting hat!
The bus took us back to the Honolulu Museum of Art, where Patrick grabbed a couple of shots as we dashed off to the next stop on our whirlwind tour of Hawaii… ‘Iolani Palace! Stay tuned…