Monday, July 25, 2011

The view from the Pagoda

If you take a right turn at Sycamore Street, off Franklin Boulevard in the heart of touristy Hollywood, you'll find yourself on a narrow road that winds up into the hills. Pass through the gate and follow the directions of the attendant, and you'll find yourself pulling up at a valet stand in front of an amazing Japanese palace, with one of the best views in town.

Seen from the tiered garden
Now almost one hundred years old, Yamashiro was built by a pair of eccentric German brothers as a replica of a real Japanese palace in the mountains near Kyoto. In an undeveloped Hollywood, it was an impressive landmark as it loomed above the town from its hilltop site, ringed by tiered gardens that included a pool with swans and an antique pagoda.

1922 aerial photo from the Los Angeles Public Library
Charles and Adolph Bernheimer collected Japanese art and built the house as their personal residence and to showcasetheir collection. The house was built of teak and cedar, the ceilings and portals were carved wood, and the rooms were adorned with handpainted silk wallpaper.

The garden
 The house enclosed an inner garden, with fountains and rare fish in the pools. 

Undated photo by Herman Schultheis, from the Los Angeles Public Library
The brothers lived there until 1922, when Charles passed away, and much of the collection was auctioned off. Adolph soon built another Japanese fantasy in Pacific Palisades, which became a tourist attraction for its extensive gardens - which is another story.

Front entrance today
The Hollywood house became a club and hangout for movie stars, and - rumor has it - a high-class brothel. In the 1940s in was vandalized by people with anti-Japanese sentiments, and was then converted into apartments before falling into dilapidation.

Wallpaper in the rear lounge
It was purchased in 1948 by a developer who, while preparing to demolish it, discovered the hand-painted silk wallpaper beneath the paint and cheap paneling, and vowed to restore it.

Still in the hands of the same family that restored it, Yamashiro is now a Japanese restaurant and frequently used as a wedding and special event site.  An apartment that was built to the east of the main house is now operated as a hotel - its swimming pool is built on the site of the lake where swans once swam. An outdoor bar is installed in the tiered garden just above the pool.

Pagoda Bar
I'm sorry to say that the restaurant's food is said to be undistinguished and expensive. We didn't try it, based on the reviews. But you can still enjoy the view if you stop in for a drink - either at the main bar in the palace, or at the Pagoda Bar overlooking the swimming pool.

On a perfectly clear Saturday evening, we enjoyed a couple of cool ones garnished with slices of pineapple. The bar, with its comfortable wicker couches and chairs, filled up soon, with a typical Hollywood crowd - young, tattooed, skimpily dressed and speaking Serbian.

After our drinks, we wandered up the steps and took a tour of the main house.  It truly is amazing - and even more amazing that it's hidden in plain sight here.

You can view old postcards and photos from its heyday at THIS SITE (scroll down for the Hollywood house), and see its commanding presence looming over Hollywood - a Hollywood bare of the tumble of stucco apartment houses and bungalows that obscure the building today - unless you know what you're looking for.

UPDATE - an old friend contacted me through Facebook and reported that the food at Yamashiro was excellent. So maybe the reviews I read were old - perhaps it's worth a try!


Alexia said...

Lovely! it would be a fascinating place to visit.

Incidentally, I clicked on your link to the hotel and read their blurb - it says that the pagoda was built in the 1600s!!!!

Your posts have introduced me to a toally different Los Angeles from the stereotyped Hollywood one - thankyou!

smalltownme said...

Los Angeles used to be a place I went through to get somewhere else. You find such wonderful, tasty places and now I want to stop and savor them all.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Lovely pictures and story, Aunt Snow.

In the 1940s in was vandalized by people with anti-Japanese sentiments...

Now it's Muslims we've always been at war with. Such progress we're making!

P.S. a typical Hollywood crowd - young, tattooed, skimpily dressed and speaking Serbian.

That doesn't sound like M.B.!

Rachel said...

Actually, they've just hired a new chef, so the food's not bad at all right now!

It's still a bit more of a drinks/ view place to go, but the food's worth a try.

Also, in the summer, they have an evening farmer's market in the parking lot.

Sue said...

What a wonderful place. It really is too bad the food doesn't measure up to the view. If only those walls could talk!