Photo: A postcard of the Bernheimer house, listed on EBay at $6.
In Japanese, Yamashiro means castle on the hill. Standing in its original 1914 location, Yamashiro restaurant, the elegant dowager at the top of Orchid and Sycamore, still preens in all her exotic beauty over Hollywood. The building and grounds have served as a home, clubhouse, scenic garden, military school, and restaurant for just under 100 years. Long may it continue its reign.
Brothers Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer, New York importers of Oriental goods, began constructing a Los Angeles winter home in early 1914, one that would stand out in the conservative little burg of Hollywood. After buying the land from Mr. Whitley in 1912, the brothers conceived a beautiful Oriental mansion to reflect their interest in all things Eastern. As the Los Angeles Times described it in the Jan. 11, 1914 paper, 110 feet square, and “designed after the mansions of lordly Chinese mandarins.” It was arranged around an interior, tiled court.
“Inspected from close range, the resident presents only the aspect of a structure in the rough; but from Hollywood Boulevard, the house with its circular terraces and white retaining walls, looms upon the view like a vision from the skies of the celestial kingdom itself… .” The property consisted of a 600-year-old pagoda imported from Japan, along with waterfalls, koi ponds, arches, and other decorative touches.
The newspaper stated it would cost $120,000 to build upon one of the most scenic hillsides in Hollywood, with the sellers retaining the rights to build other large homes around it. The brothers soon decided to make it their official residence.
As early as November 1914, the place earned the name “Yamashiro.” The Nov. 15, 1914, Los Angeles Times stated that people had been remarking upon its location for awhile, calling it “Yama Shiro,” or “Large house on the hill.” They also now reported it cost $250,000 to build and outshone any Japanese residence. They also announced that the builders were both bachelors, and vowed that no woman would be allowed to enter as an invited guest. A few years later, brother Eugene would buy land in Santa Monica on the palisades and build his own Japanese gardens and house there. Unfortunately, erosion destroyed part of the hillside in the 1930s, and divided that house in half, which had to be destroyed.
The home opened for the first time to invited guests of the Committees of Foreign Relief on Jan. 21, 1920, children from Poland and Serbia.
Adolph Bernheimer passed away in 1924, leaving no direct heirs. His nephews and nieces decided to sell the property. On June 12, 1925, John Tait, a San Francisco and Los Angeles restaurant owner, was negotiating to buy the property from Joe Toplitzky for $1.5 million. He intended to update it, and to promote the world famous and beautiful Oriental architecture and furniture, included as part of the original deal.
This negotiation collapsed, however, and within a few months, capitalist William Clark Crittenden purchased the property for $1 million for the Four Hundred Club, an exclusive motion picture club founded and operated by actor Frank Elliott. He founded the Sixty Club a few years before, because actors were ignored by society. This gave them the opportunity of hosting their own dinners, dances, and special events. While the Sixty Club only contained 60 members, the Four Hundred Club would number 400, composed of motion picture players, directors, producers, and other behind the scenes people. The home would become the sophisticated clubhouse for the group, along with a ballroom, theatre, and swimming pool to be installed, per the Oct. 4, 1925, Los Angeles Times. Oct. 11, 1925 would be the first time members would see and visit their new headquarters. By 1929, the group was defunct.
Photo: The Bernheimer residence in a picture listed on EBay at $33.88.
I could find no mention of the property in The Los Angeles Times or Daily Variety from this date until 1944 however.
Lewis S. Hart auctioneers sold off the Oriental furnishings at a two day auction on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12, 1944, including Pigeon Blood Art Objects, artwork, XVIII Century Sedan Chair, rugs, jewelry, and furniture, with the property sold on Dec. 18, with a provision that it could be subdivided. “The home consists of 18 rooms and is modeled after the Peking summer palace of the last Empress Dowager of China.” The ad stated that it was located at 1995 N. Sycamore Ave.
In early March,1945, The Los Angeles Times reported that Joseph M. Gross of the Riviera Airborne Military School, leased long term what they called the “Hollywood Scenic Gardens” at 1995 Orchid Ave.
Over the years, the property has appeared in several films, including “The Annapolis Story,” “Sayonara,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Teahouse of the August Moon,” “Playing God,” and “Blind Date.”
Thomas O. Glover purchased the entire hill, gardens, and buildings in 1948, and soon thereafter opened the house as the Japanese restaurant maintained to this day, though his family did list the property for sale a few years ago. The property now includes the apartments around it as well as the Magic Castle. Hollywood is lucky that the building survived all these many years without being torn down and the hill subdivided. Yamashiro’s is an early example of Hollywood creating a fantasy landscape in which to live.