If you’ve ever been to Yamashiro Restaurant, or their seasonal Thursday night Farmer’s market, you’ve probably wondered how such an architecturally-unique structure like this came to exist.
Perched high on the hill in the iconic Hollywood neighborhood of Whitley Heights, the original mansion was built in 1914 by two brothers, Charles and Adolph Bernheimer, to identically replicate a Japanese pagoda in Kyoto, Japan. As world travelers and collectors, the brothers had amassed a fortune of art from their time in the Orient and wanted an architecturally grand residence to house the collectibles.
With 10 bedrooms, an inner courtyard garden, pools, fish ponds, and exotic landscaping, the mansion became an exclusive social retreat for the Hollywood elite. Of course as soon as the Depression hit, Hollywood was equally effected and the Bernheimer mansion opened their doors to the general public, selling tours of the gardens and access to the unparalleled views of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. Once the owners died, most of the treasures were sold at auction.
In the 40’s, anti-Japanese sentiment found its way to the Bernheimer mansion and it became a victim of rampant vandalism. Angelenos thought it was a signal tower for the Japanese and wanted it destroyed. Instead, the architecture and details were covered, painted, and converted to a short-lived boy’s military school. As soon as WWII was over, a developer bought the mansion and converted it further to a 15-unit apartment building!
By the late 40’s, yet another developer named Thomas Glover bought the mansion and, upon preparation to demolish and rebuild a new hotel, he discovered something very interesting. As they started to peel away the multiple layers of paint and construction, the hidden architectural details of ornately carved woodwork and silk-lined walls were revealed. Recognizing the historical significance, he chose to restore the property to its original design instead of pursuing the far more lucrative path of turning it into a hilltop hotel. Since then, the hotel has undergone decades of restoration and now houses a Japanese restaurant and bar.
I highly recommend spending a Thursday evening at the Yamashiro Farmer’s Market held in the parking lot of the restaurant. Enjoying one of the many vendor stands and fun food trucks while overlooking Los Angeles as the sunset radiates hues of orange and lavender is a great way to experience some neat Hollywood history. But hurry! It only runs through the summer months and ends in September.