Built in 1937 as the Honolulu home of Doris Duke (1912-1993), Shangri La was inspired by Duke’s extensive travels throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and reflects artistic and architectural collections and designs from these regions. The museum is a program of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
Doris Duke and her new husband, James Cromwell, arrived in Honolulu in August 1935 as the final stop on their honeymoon tour; they soon extended their island stay by four months, longer than they had lingered in any other place on their itinerary. She described the islands as “…one of the most beautiful places in the world. It has a marvelous climate all year round, and I love the ocean, and I like the people.”
Duke befriended the Kahanamoku family, a prominent Native Hawaiian family who formed the core of Duke’s social circle for many years and introduced her to Hawaiian life. Finding herself captivated by the cultures she experienced during her honeymoon and enamored with Hawai‘i, Duke designed a new home in collaboration with architect Marion Sims Wyeth that would evoke the beauty and character of these cultures. This home would become Shangri La. For nearly 60 years, Duke commissioned and collected major elements representing the Islamic history, art and culture of Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Central Asia, India and parts of Southeast Asia.
In 1965, Duke added a codicil to her will calling for the creation of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art so Shangri La could become a public institution “to promote the study and understanding of Middle Eastern Art and Culture.” After Duke’s death in 1993, Shangri La opened to the public in 2002.