Arizona is home to the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon, crazy desert wildlife, and very hot summers.
#1 Doris Duke was born in New York City on November 22, 1912.
She was privileged enough to attend Brearley School in New York and travel Europe with her parents. It was these first travels that ignited her interest in travel and the cultures of the world. After her fathers death in 1925, she, at age twelve, became one of the principal heirs of the fortune that he had gained from his companies: Duke Energy Company and American Tobacco Company. On her 21st birthday, she officially inherited a third of the estate. The very next year, she founded Independent Aid, an organization designed to allow her to make charitable donations to help improve issues like education and the welfare of women and children. In 1935, at the age of twenty-two, Doris married James Cromwell and, with the commencement of their honeymoon around the world, so begins the story of Shangri La.
#2 Shangri La started out simply as the Mughal Suite — and it was supposed to be in Palm Beach, Florida!
But, after visiting Hawaii as the final stop of their honeymoon in 1935, the Cromwells knew that Hawaii had to be the place for their new home. Travelling Indian cities like Agra and Delhi during their honeymoon, Doris had fallen in love with Mughal art and Islamic art as a whole. She designed the Mughal Suite to be reminiscent of destinations she had explored in her travels, like the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. She enlisted the help of Delhi-based British architect Francis B. Blomfield to oversee her creation, and by the time the couple visited Hawaii, plans for the suite in Palm Beach were already underway. Luckily, the plans, and all of the marble that had been commissioned, were able to be transferred to O’ahu.
#3 In 1936, they purchased 4.9 more acres of ocean front property on Ka‘alāwai in O’ahu.
Architect Marion Sims Wyeth was hired, and plans went underway for the creation of the full masterpiece that is now Shangri La. While the mansion was being built, the Cromwells were travelling again. They travelled throughout the Middle East, visiting Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Istanbul. During this time, they studied each country carefully, filming and photographing all of the architectural details that they could find to pass on to the architects to be incorporated into the Shangri La. Not only this, but they purchased and commissioned more works of art to decorate the Shangri La. On Christmas Day of 1938, the Cromwells were finally able to move into the Shangri La. Construction was not fully finished until the next year.
#4 Even after the couple split up, Doris remained passionate about the Shangri La.
Throughout her life, she continually renovated the mansion, never letting her creation become stagnant. As she had done on her honeymoon, she continued to commission new works from artisans around the world. Things like ceramic tiles, doors, ceilings, and furnishings were brought from places all across the Middle East, like Syria, Morocco and Iran. In the 1960’s, Doris was inspired to elaborately redo the dining room after her visits to Egypt and Lebanon. Two new Syrian interiors helped bring her vision to life. Many people laud her open minded and unconstrained creative process. The last significant purchase that Doris made was an Iranian Mihrab, which was installed in 1992.
#5 Doris Duke died on October 28, 1993 in Los Angeles, California.
At the age of eighty, she had accomplished much to be proud of. A stipulation of her will created the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Doing this ensured that the Shangri La and its collections would be used to spark interest in education about Middle Eastern art and culture. After a lot of planning and historic preservation, Shangri La opened to the public in 2002. Present day, tours are still offered through the Honolulu Museum of Art. The tours generally last about two and a half hours, so you’ll get to experience nearly all that the Shangri La has to offer. All in all, the five acre complex consists of a 14,000 square foot house, a pool, a playhouse, multiple courtyards, terraces, gardens, and water features. The Shangri La continues to be nationally known for its impressive collection of about 2,500 artistic objects. As one of the most architecturally significant homes in Hawaii, you won’t want to miss it!