Yamashiro: The Story of An L.A. Icon

Discover Hollywood's landmark "mountain palace"

Photo by Eric Lothrop, courtesy of Yamashiro
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Boasting spectacular city views, stunning architecture and tranquil gardens, Yamashiro has welcomed guests to its magical setting above Hollywood Boulevard for generations. From its origins as a private estate to its modern incarnation as an Asian fusion restaurant and event venue, the fascinating history of Yamashiro is something out of a Hollywood script.

A MOUNTAIN PALACE IN HOLLYWOOD

The Main House at Yamashiro in 1914
The Main House at Yamashiro in 1914 | Photo courtesy of Yamashiro

Meaning "Mountain Palace" in Japanese, Yamashiro was originally the vision of Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer, who were described by the National Park Service as "German-born cotton barons and avid Asian Art collectors." After acquiring a dozen acres of Hollywood hilltop property to build their estate and gardens, the Bernheimer brothers hired New York architect Franklin M. Small, with local architect Walter Webber as supervising architect, to design the Main House that would house their collection of Asian art treasures.

Completed in 1914, the mansion was supposedly a replica of a palace located in the mountains of Yamashiro province near Kyoto. In fact, the Main House was a mix of design elements from Japan, China and other Asian cultures.

Historic foyer in the Main House at Yamashiro
Historic foyer at the Main House | Photo courtesy of Yamashiro

Yamashiro was accessed by 300 steps that led up the hillside through landscaped Japanese gardens. Inside the 10-room teak and cedar mansion, carved rafters were lacquered in gold and tipped with bronze dragons. The walls were covered with lustrous silks and antique tapestries.

Vintage photo of the miniature Japanese village at Yamashiro, with the 600-year-old pagoda in the background
The miniature Japanese village, with the 600-year-old pagoda in the background | Photo courtesy of Yamashiro

With landscaping that reportedly cost $2 million, terraces were filled with 30,000 varieties of plants and trees, waterfalls, goldfish, and a private zoo of exotic birds and monkeys. Toy-sized bronze houseboats floated along a maze of tiny canals and through a miniature Japanese village.

The Inner Courtyard of the Main House at Yamashiro in 1914
The Inner Courtyard at the Main House in 1914 | Photo courtesy of Yamashiro

An Inner Courtyard, with a garden in the center, was filled with sculpted plants, stone-hewn pools, and rare fish.

The 600-year-old pagoda and spectacular view at Yamashiro
The 600-year-old pagoda and view at Yamashiro | Photo courtesy of Stephen Carr, Flickr

Located at the Hollywood Hills Hotel pool, the 600-year-old pagoda from Japan is one of Yamashiro's most famous original structures. The pool was once a "lake" that housed rare black Australian swans.

An antique Buddha sits in the Summer House at Yamashiro
An antique Buddha sits in the Summer House | Photo courtesy of Yamashiro

Another well-known Yamashiro spot, the ceremonial Summer House was placed just below the top of the hill as a resting place for guests who were climbing the stairs. The antique Buddha seated there became so popular with guests, a sign hangs from a post to warn visitors, "Do Not Climb On Buddha." The Yamashiro Buddha now faces west as a sign of good luck and prosperity.

THE 400 CLUB

The Bernheimer brothers sold Yamashiro in 1924. After Eugene's sudden death in December 1924, most of the art collection – including the Buddhist and Satsuma art, rare jades, tapestries, and cloisonne chandeliers – were auctioned off.

In the late 1920s, Yamashiro was briefly home to the 400 Club, an exclusive gathering of A-list celebrities from the Golden Age of Hollywood. One rumor even said that Yamashiro was a brothel during the Roaring Twenties. During the Great Depression, tours of the Yamashiro gardens were offered for 25 cents.

WORLD WAR II

After Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese sentiment was rampant in Hollywood and across the country. Yamashiro was rumored to be a signal tower for the Japanese. Much of the landscaping and decorative elements were stripped by vandals.

Yamashiro’s Asian architecture was disguised - carved woods were covered with paint and boards, and the estate became a military boys school. At the end of WWII, the property was converted into 15 apartment units. Over the years, everyone from legendary comedian Richard Pryor to local news anchor Jerry Dunphy lived on the grounds.

SAVED BY THOMAS O. GLOVER

In disrepair and unrecognizable from its heyday, the estate was purchased in 1948 by Thomas O. Glover, who wanted to raze the building and develop a hotel and apartments on the seven-acre property. (Glover would later buy the nearby Magic Castle.)

As he prepared for Yamashiro's demolition, Glover discovered ornate woodwork and silk wallpaper hidden beneath layers of paint and plywood. Instead of tearing down the estate, Glover decided to restore the mansion.

Glover opened a cocktail lounge in a back room of the building and charged a $1 membership to the “Hollywood Hill Club.” The resident handyman did double duty as a bartender, serving drinks for 35 cents. The popular bar soon outgrew its space and was expanded into the next room, and the next, until it occupied the entire east side of the building.

YAMASHIRO RESTAURANT IS BORN

Spicy tuna crispy rice at Yamashiro
Spicy tuna crispy rice | Photo courtesy of Yamashiro

According to Yamashiro, Glover’s son, Thomas Y. Glover served hot hors d’oeuvres to bar guests one New Year's Eve, and Yamashiro Restaurant was born. Starting with just four tables in the early 60's, the restaurant expanded into the remaining rooms of the palace.

Over the next five decades, Yamashiro became a popular dining destination and wedding venue that could accommodate hundreds of guests. The Pagoda Bar was added on a terrace above the pool, overlooking the 600-year-old pagoda, with the city skyline as a backdrop.

THE TEA HOUSE

Built at the time of the original Main House, the Tea House was modeled after an actual Japanese tea house. Vintage photos show that the Tea House was connected to the main building by a switchback walkway, cascades, and waterfalls. In the late 1950s, the Tea House was converted to an apartment and occupied for 20 years by actor Pernell Roberts (Adam Cartwright on Bonanza and the title role on Trapper John, M.D.)

Not long after Roberts moved out of the Tea House, vandals lit fires on the hillside and the Tea House burned down. The foundation and remnants of the water cascades and waterfalls are all that remain.

THE MONKEY HOUSE

Originally built to house a collection of monkeys, the namesake Monkey House was built "like a cave," made of chicken wire and plaster on the inside, where the monkeys could sleep. An outdoor area featured small ponds and swings.

In the late 50's, the Monkey House was converted to an apartment and rented to celebrities like Randy Prince, whose father owned much of Hollywood Boulevard. Prince's lavish parties became well-known around Hollywood. Thomas Y. Glover moved into the Monkey House in 1978 and re-built it into a comfortable residence, where he lived until 1993. Since then it's been occupied by several Hollywood celebrities.

A National Landmark

The Garden Courtyard at Yamashiro
The Garden Courtyard | Photo courtesy of Yamashiro, Facebook

In August 2012, the Yamashiro Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. According to the National Park Service, the Yamashiro Historic District includes "nine contributing buildings, sites, and structures on the estate property."

UNFORGETTABLE SPECIAL EVENTS

First Dance in the Garden Courtyard at Yamashiro
First Dance in the Garden Courtyard | Photo courtesy of Yamashiro, Facebook

Thanks to its romantic setting and impressive city views, Yamashiro is one of L.A.'s most popular wedding and special event venues. Spaces throughout Yamashiro are available for events, from the famous Garden Courtyard to the Skyview Room and the more intimate Koi Room.

STARRING YAMASHIRO AS "JAPAN"

Scene from "Memoirs of a Geisha" filmed in the Inner Courtyard at Yamashiro
Scene from "Memoirs of a Geisha" filmed in the Inner Courtyard | Photo courtesy of Yamashiro

Since the 1920s, Yamashiro has starred as “Japan” in numerous film and TV productions, and also appeared in countless commercials and photoshoots. Most recently, Yamashiro is the setting for the final scene of Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. Director Joshua Logan chose the palace as the officers’ club in his Academy Award-winning 1957 film, Sayonara starring Marlon Brando. Other Yamashiro film appearances include Memoirs of a Geisha, Gone in 60 Seconds, Blind Date, Thousand Men and a Baby, Playing God, and Teahouse of the August Moon. During the 1950s and '60s, Yamashiro became a familiar sight on TV with appearances on series such as I Spy, Route 66, Perry Mason and My Three Sons.

A NEW ERA BEGINS

Yamashiro entrance in the daytime
Photo courtesy of Yamashiro

In March 2016, the property that contains Yamashiro was sold to JE Group, a Beijing-based hotel operator. In July 2016, Yamashiro announced its new operators, BNG Group and Sugar Factory. Yamashiro also welcomed new Executive Chef Christophe Bonnegrace, the former executive chef of Buddha Bar and Little Buddha in Las Vegas.

New features like a sushi bar, robata grill, teppanyaki grill and a new lounge are based on the original 1914 plans for the "Mountain Palace" and its surrounding grounds.

Discover Yamashiro

1999 N. Sycamore Ave, Hollywood
323.466.5125

Hours
Sunday–Thursday: 5–11 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 5 p.m. – midnight

Valet parking: $10 (street parking not available)