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Touring Shangri La: A visit to the opulent Oahu estate of heiress Doris Duke


Beginning in May, tours to Shangri La, the opulent oceanside Oahu estate that was once home to American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke, will have new hours. Start times for tours will be 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays, from May 2.

In a news release issued this month by the Honolulu Museum of Art, which manages the estate, per Duke's wishes, as a center for Islamic arts and cultures, Shangri La executive director Deborah Pope said: “We listened to visitors about when they prefer to visit and how they want to spend their time.” She added, “The new tour schedule presents convenient tour times Wednesday through Saturday and will allow for a more efficient check-in process. Visitors will continue to enjoy an hour and half at Shangri La with a guided tour in the public rooms of the main house and portions of the gardens.”

Shangri La is owned and supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, established after Duke's death in 1993. Estate tours are conducted by the Honolulu Museum of Art (formerly the Honolulu Academy of Arts), by reservation. For more information about tour tickets, click here or call (808) 532-3853.

The feature below, published in HAWAII Magazine's March/April 2011 issue, offers a colorful overview of the Shangri La tour and the Hawaii life of Doris Duke.


A tour of Doris Duke's private Diamond Head estate offers a look at her life and interests, on her own terms.

Story by Catherine E. Toth

The life's passions of wealthy American heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke are on display the moment you enter her sumptuous Oahu estate, Shangri La.

Throughout Duke’s home, nestled on the slopes of Diamond Head crater, are more than 3,500 objects from the Islamic world, including massive painted and gilded wood ceilings, elaborately carved doorways, intricate mosaic ceramic-tile panels and several mihrab, or prayer niches (pictured below, bottom of page), common in Islamic mosques.

In 1925, at age 12, Duke inherited more than $50 million from her father, tobacco and energy tycoon James Buchanan Duke—giving her the nickname, “The Richest Girl in the World.” Duke amassed her vast collection of Islamic art from Iran, Turkey, Egypt, India, Syria and other countries throughout her lifetime, displaying much of it at Shangri La. Owned by a foundation for Islamic art Duke established prior to her death in 1993, Shangri La’s opulent interiors and exteriors have since been toured by thousands of visitors.

I wasn’t among them, until recently. Still, I’d always been curious about Duke’s 5-acre waterfront retreat, which took two years, $1.4 million and more than 150 workers to complete. I also wanted to know how a woman of such vast wealth and world renown lived her life while on Oahu, my home island.


Born in 1912, Duke’s early childhood was spent far from the Islands, at the family’s 2,700-acre estate, Duke Farms, in Hillsborough, N.J.  In 1935, newly wed to American diplomat James Cromwell, Duke embarked on a honeymoon tour of the world during which her interest in Islamic art was sparked by travels through the Middle East and Asia. The couple arrived on Oahu that summer, falling instantly in love with the Island’s laid-back lifestyle.

Story and photos continue on next page

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Doris Duke bedroom suite at Oahu Shangri La estate finally open to the public
Where in Hawaii was Diamond Head with Charlton Heston filmed?
Diamond Head trail to close

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