Saturday night I joined a small group of devoted and passionate Los Angeles “history geeks” made up of tour guides, tour operators, preservationists, historians, authors, and all-around fans of Los Angeles history. We met for conversation and (possibly) farewell cocktails at Yamashiro Hollywood, nestled in the hills 250 feet above Hollywood Boulevard. This landmark property was first developed on seven acres in 1911 by the Bernheimer brothers, to house their priceless collection of Asian treasures. It was a 10-room teak and cedar mansion with 300 steps leading up to its entrance. The name Yamashiro actually translates to “mountain palace” in Japanese and the brothers hired hundreds of craftsmen to recreate a mountain palace near Kyoto, Japan. Completed in 1914, the property was lushly landscaped with a garden courtyard, trees, waterfalls, ponds of goldfish and other exotic fish, and even a private zoo. The pool as we see it today was once a lake that housed rare black swans. Near the pool is a gorgeous 600 year old pagoda from Japan.
The brothers’ extensive art collection was sold off in the mid-20’s when one of brothers passed away and since that time the building has been occupied by everything from an elite Hollywood social club, a boys military club, apartment complex and the Hollywood Hill Club, where a $1 membership fee got you access to a back-room lounge for 35 cent cocktails. This was in 1948. Yamashiro the restaurant began when the new owner’s son began to serve hot appetizers to the bar patrons. The restaurant ultimately expanded into all the rooms of the palace, with maximum capacity of up to 500 diners. The food program has been upgraded over the years but most people go to Yamashiro Hollywood for the ambiance and the gorgeous views of Los Angeles. I used to enjoy going to Yamashiro Farmer’s Market on Thursday evenings in the summer months. In addition to the city views, you could enjoy live music, food and drink and support local produce vendors while you wandered the property.
It has been in the news of late that a Chinese hospitality company has acquired the entire seven acres including the building that houses the restaurant. It seemed as though their original intent was to allow the restaurant to continue its operations while just renovating and updating the building, but a recent massive rent increase looks to be forcing the restaurant out of business. The current owners say they will continue to operate until a court order forces them to close. If you have always wanted to enjoy Yamashiro’s views, now is your time to do it. Yamashiro would love your support. If you’re interested there is a Friends of Yamashiro page on Facebook for updates and information. As an aside, in case you are wondering: The Magic Castle, which sits just below Yamashiro on Franklin Avenue, was not included as part of this sale.
By Trish Procetto