For 88 years Yamashiro has watched over the history of Hollywood. It has witnessed the birth of the film industry, the glamour of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”, the difficult times of war with Japan, and the current period of intense interest in Eastern cultures. Yamashiro started as a fabulous private estate and is now open to the public as a unique restaurant and public gardens.
Yamashiro means “Mountain Palace” in Japanese. It was the dream of the Bernheimer brothers in 1911 to build a hilltop mansion 250 feet above Hollywood Boulevard to house their priceless collection of Asian treasures. Hundreds of skilled craftsmen were brought from the Orient to recreate an exact replica of a palace located in the “Yamashiro” mountains near Kyoto, Japan. This dream became a reality in 1914.
When they finished Yamashiro in Hollywood, 300 steps led up the hillside through superbly landscaped Japanese gardens to the 10-room teak and cedar mansion, where carved rafters were lacquered in gold and tipped with bronze dragons. A Sacred Inner Court formed a lovely garden in the center of the building and was filled with sculptured plants, stone hewn pools and rare fish. This Inner Court provided light and air to the surrounding rooms where the walls were covered with lustrous silks and hung with antique tapestries.
Landscaping at Yamashiro was a $2 million effort and resulted in California’s foremost Japanese gardens. Hillside terraces were filled with 30,000 varieties of trees and shrubs, waterfalls, hundreds of goldfish, and even a private zoo of exotic birds and monkeys. Miniature bronze houseboats floated along
a maze of tiny canals through a miniature Japanese village.
Today you can still see the 600-year-old pagoda (seen above, behind Bernheimer Brothers) which was brought from Japan and set beside a lake which once housed rare black Australian swans and is now converted into a modern swimming pool. Most of the Asian collection, however – the Buddhist and Satsuma art, the rare jades, tapestries and cloisonne chandeliers – were auctioned off in 1922 after one of the Bernheimer brothers died.
In the late 1920’s Yamashiro served as headquarters for the ultra-exclusive “400 Club”. Created for the elite of Hollywood’s motion picture industry during its Golden Age, Yamashiro gave Hollywood its first celebrity hangout. Here Bebe Daniels, Frank Elliott, Lilian Gish, Ramon Navarro, and the Who’s Who of actors, writers, directors and celebrities in Hollywood formed their first social institution as a monument to their achievement.
Hollywood, like the rest of the country, suffered with the Great Depression. But, Yamashiro remained, and for twenty-five cents you could tour the unparalleled Japanese gardens and admire the spectacular view of all Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
Rumor has it that during those tragic years, beautiful (though starving) actresses were available at Yamashiro for hire for the evening to those who could still afford such pleasures.
At the outbreak of World War II, anti-Japanese sentiment spread rapidly in Hollywood and throughout the country. In the post Pearl Harbor paranoia, Yamashiro was mistakenly rumored to be a signal tower for the Japanese. Much of the beautiful landscaping and decorative elements of the palace itself were stripped by vandals. Yamashiro’s distinctive Asian architecture was disguised, the beautiful carved woods covered with paint, and the estate became a boys’ military school.
At the end of the war with Japan, a builder bought the property, added a second story, and converted Yamashiro into 15 apartment units. Then in 1948, the estate, unrecognizable and in disrepair, was purchased by Thomas O. Glover, who originally intended to tear down the structure and develop a hotel and apartment units on the seven acres of property. While preparing to demolish, he discovered the treasure of ornate woodwork and silk wallpaper hidden under layers of black paint. He realized that this was too important to destroy and decided to restore the property. This became a 20-year project which continues even today.
Continuing to restore Yamashiro’s historic buildings and grounds, a remodeling program has been established by Tom Y. Glover, the son of Tom O. Glover. The restaurant now includes the westside Sunset Room, in addition to the air conditioned main dining room terraces, bar lounge and Skyview banquet room overlooking downtown L.A., Hollywood, Beverly Hills, past Century City’s distinctive skyline to the beaches beyond. The Inner Courtyard, popular for dining, banquets, and weddings, has been renovated, and the Japanese gardens and pools with colorful Koi fish have been returned to their former tranquil beauty. Today tour groups constantly visit the grounds to take in the unique view of Hollywood.
For three decades, guests have enjoyed Yamashiro’s gracious Japanese ambience, with its award-winning Japanese menu. Two years ago, a complete management change instituted renovations inside the building and an elegant yet contemporary new direction in service and food, resulting in the creation of the restaurant’s highly praised CalAsian cuisine, complementing classic Japanese favorites. Now the complete dining experience is unmatched in Los Angeles, enhanced by the spectacular view that originally drew the Bernheimer brothers, and later the Glover family, to this Hollywood hilltop to build Yamashiro, Hollywood’s own “Mountain Palace”.
By Thomas Y. Glover