Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cookies at Shangrila

Aloha! Salaam! Welcome!
Click on photos to enlarge A modest entrance flanked by camels as one might see in Morocco

Is Camel Cigarettes a family brand?

The foyer boasts a cedar ceiling and stained glass by Rene` Martin.
A Jali (stone screen) lets in light & air while maintaining privacy. Photography is forbidden inside the home, so I cannot show you the "Turkish Room" at the foot of the stairs. It contains a historical Mihab, a tiled wall piece showing the direction of Mecca. It cost $100,000 in 1940. Museums couldn't afford it, Doris could. Being a decorative element, it is not aligned to it's religious purpose, as Miss Duke was not a practicing Muslim. (The mihab was de-installed, dismantled, and hidden underground after the Pearl Harbor attack till the end of WWII.)

Outside, one finds this extraordinary tile doorway!

Shangrila's "Play House" stands above a sea wall. Tomorrow: the pool, waterfall & ocean views!

How do you get to Shangrila?

You can't just drive there. Even if you knew the way, there's no parking outside the tall, anonymous iron gate. So us lucky few waited behind Diamond Head in the parking lot of Kapiolani Community College. There a friendly guard checked our names off of a clip board list and told us the bus would be along directly. A magical mystery tour-bus? The Cat Bus?

No, just a normal smallish tour bus.

We drove `round the venerable crater to the choice Makai (ocean) side, and turned into a normal looking street that I've driven past without a glance for twenty years. But that was before I knew that one of the most celebrated women of the 20th Century, Doris Duke, had created the jewel of her world-spanning collection of 5 mansions in this choicest of legendary locations.

Welcome to Shangrila!

Miss Duke, known to tabloid headlines from childhood as The Poor Little Rich Girl, had come by her zillion$ honestly; She was the only child of tobacco baron, James Duke (American Tobacco). Born in 1912, her life was one of unparalleled wealth and access. And during her lifetime she even quadrupled that vast fortune. It was a "pile" so significant that when she re-married with a foreign national during the 1940's (her second and last marriage) the United States government drew up their pre-nuptial agreement! When her husband saw the amounts involved he fainted.

Just before her beloved father died, he had told the 12 year old Doris to "trust no one." Such are the glories of great wealth. He meant well, no doubt. At 14 Doris was forced to sue her own mother over the sale of family assets. Forbidden to attend college, she was instead groomed and presented as a debutante, as the Great Depression gripped the world. The public was more fascinated than ever with the rich, most notably by Miss Duke herself. At 22 Doris married an older man. After their 2 year, world spanning honeymoon they built a home in sweet Hawaii. The year was 1939. They called it Shangrila. It was built with an Islamic aspect, and Miss Duke spent her life collecting art and objects from Muslim cultures to fill it with.

Shangrila is today a treasure box of fine art that is administered by the Honolulu Academy of Arts. We guests had come not only to admire this fine home and it's grounds, but to hear an esteemed scholar present her work about the women of early Islam.

The 1000 square foot living room had a glass wall that lowers into the ground! Quite advanced for 1939 - and it still works, they even showed us. Miss Duke liked it raised only to shoulder height so as to keep out the 20 or so large dogs she kept on the property!

This was always Miss Duke's favourite place - and she could go anywhere!

I was just blown away by the place and by it's very professional staff. Lucky we stay Hawaii.

Tomorrow, more of Shangrila!

A L O H A ! Cloudia