Today is the birthday of American heiress, horticulturalist, art collector, and philanthropist Doris Duke. She was the only child of tobacco and electric energy tycoon James Buchanan Duke and his second wife, Nanaline Holt Inman, widow of Dr. William Patterson Inman. At his death in 1925, the elder Duke’s will bequeathed the majority of his estate to his wife and daughter, along with $17,000,000, in two separate clauses of the will, to The Duke Endowment he had created in 1924.
Duke acquired a number of homes. Her principal residence and official domicile was Duke Farms, her father’s 2,700 acre estate in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey. Here she created Duke Gardens, 60,000-square-foot public indoor botanical display that were among the largest in America.
Duke’s other residences were private during her lifetime: she spent summer weekends working on her Newport Restoration Foundation projects while staying at Rough Point, the 49-room English manor-style mansion that she inherited in Newport, Rhode Island. Winters were spent at an estate she built in the 1930s and named “Shangri La” in Honolulu, Hawaii; and at “Falcon’s Lair” in Beverly Hills, California, once the home of Rudolph Valentino. She also maintained two apartments in Manhattan: a 9-room penthouse with a 1,000-square-foot veranda at 475 Park Avenue that is currently owned by journalist Cindy Adams; and another apartment near Times Square that she used exclusively as an office for the management of her financial affairs. She purchased her own Boeing 737 jet and redecorated the interior to travel between homes and on her trips to collect art and plants. The plane included a bedroom decorated to resemble a bedroom in a real house.
Three of Duke’s residences are currently managed by subsidiaries of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and allow limited public access. Duke Farms in New Jersey is managed by the Duke Farms Foundation; a video tour of former Duke Gardens is available. Rough Point was deeded to the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1999 and opened to the public in 2000. Tours are limited to 12 people. Shangri-La is operated by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art; small personal tours and an online virtual tour are available.
Duke’s first major philanthropic act was to establish the Duke Gardens Foundation to endow the public display gardens she started to create at Duke Farms in 1958. Her Foundation intended that Duke Gardens “reveal the interests and philanthropic aspirations of the Duke family, as well as an appreciation for other cultures and a yearning for global understanding.”. Duke Gardens were the center of a controversy over the decision by the trustees of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to close them on May 25, 2008.
In 1968, Duke created the Newport Restoration Foundation with the goal of preserving more than eighty colonial buildings in the town. Historic properties include Rough Point, Samuel Whitehorne House, Prescott Farm, the Buloid-Perry House, the King’s Arms Tavern, the Baptist Meetinghouse, and the Cotton House. Seventy-one buildings are rented to tenants. Only five function as museums. She also funded the construction of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in India, visited by the Beatles in 1968.
Duke’s extensive travels led to an interest in a variety of cultures, and during her lifetime she amassed a considerable collection of Islamic and Southeast Asian art. After her death, numerous pieces were donated to The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Walters Art Museum of Baltimore.
Duke did much additional philanthropic work and was a major benefactor of medical research and child welfare programs. Her foundation, Dependent Aid, created when she was twelve months old, became the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
- $45M ‘revitalization’ under way at Duke Farms in Hillsborough – NJ.com (nj.com)
- Duke Foundation creates nation’s biggest artist-grant program (latimesblogs.latimes.com)