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Shangri La and The Heiress

Modeled after her vision of  James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, the Shangri La estate of tobacco heiress Doris Duke sits on five secluded acres oceanside in Hawaii with a view of Diamond Head.  Built as an escape from New York City society, Duke’s Hawaii estate became a repository for her collection of Islamic art and her retreat in old age.

Now administered by the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the house with its collection of tiles, furniture, silks, gardens, and replicas of Persian ceilings  has some of the most spectacular views in Hawaii.  The neighborhood is exclusive, but Jim Nabors lives next door,  local children jump off the seawall by the house, and locals fish off the old yacht pier nearby.

Aside from her money, travels, estates, and art collections, Doris Duke was notorious in her day.  When she left billions to her butler, relatives appeared from everywhere to challenge her will. Her trysts with Duke Kahanamoku, the  Olympic medals winner whose god-like statue looms over Waikiki beach, were legend, and he frequently swam in the olympic size pool on her estate.

The museum docents are careful to focus on the beauty of Duke’s art collection, her continuing philanthropic legacy, and her house and gardens as her living memorial – Duke’s ashes were scattered in the ocean by her estate. Doris Duke’s Shangri La is sold in the museum shop and carefully avoids any negative comments.  The photographs and illustrations include the house and its treasures, along with pictures of the heiress.

For an insider’s tale of Duke’s raunchy escapades, assorted lovers, and scandals as well as her mysterious death, try Too Rich: the Family Secrets of Doris Duke, written by her cousin and godson, Pony Duke.