August 25, 2010

Yamashiro holds ghosts from yesteryear

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Diversity, Entertainment at 7:39 pm by dinaheng

Stand in the Garden Court of Yamashiro, and you can imagine the voices of Hollywood past, whispering about celebrity sightings, flirting with abandon, and sighing with regret at various events that have occurred in the 96-year-old mansion, originally designed to replicate a palace in the Yamashiro mountains near Kyoto, Japan.

Today, the landmark in the Hollywood Hills is a restaurant known for its panoramic views of Los Angeles, colorful history, and not infrequent ghost sightings.

Built in 1914 by two brothers, Charles Bernheimer and Adolph Bernheimer, the 10-room cedar and teak mansion served as a family home and housed a collection of Asian antiquities. Hundreds of artisans created a landscaped Japanese garden on the grounds, and the “Sacred Inner Court” in the center of the mansion was filled with stone hewn pools and rare fish.

Most of the Asian collection of Buddhist and Satsuma art, jades, and cloisonné chandeliers were auctioned off in 1922 after one of the brothers died. The mansion was converted into the exclusive “400 Club,” in the late 1920s, and became a Hollywood hangout for celebrities such as Lillian Gish, Bebe Daniels, Ramon Navarro and others of the era.

“During the Great Depression, it was a brothel, then a boys’ military school,” says David Comfort, general manager of Yamashiro. “In the 1940s, they boarded everything up because they were worried about it being bombed with the start of World War II. The oldest structure in California was the Pagoda.”

The 600-year-old Pagoda, brought from Japan by the Bernheimers, still stands below the restaurant.

While much of the landscaping and decorative elements of the palace were stripped by vandals during the Second World War, you can still see the original hand-carved wood panels in the restaurant and some original fixtures.

After the war, a builder added a second story and converted the estate into 15 apartment units. In 1948, Thomas O. Glover bought the property, intending to raze the structure and build a hotel and apartments on the seven acres. But as the place was prepped for demolishment, Glover discovered the silk wallpaper and ornate woodwork under layers of paint, and decided to restore the palace instead.

“About 50 years ago, his son (Tom Y. Glover) started serving appetizers and drinks to friends here, and turned it into a restaurant,” Comfort says. “Tom Glover, Sr. and his wife’s ashes are buried in the northeast corner of the Garden Court.”

While renovation efforts are apparent, there’s no mistaking the age of the structure, and a feel of ages past still in the air.  Guests and employees have numerous stories about unexplained sounds and sightings over the years.

“The manager before me went up to the Groom’s Room one night and heard crying, but saw nothing,” Comfort says. “He took a security guard up with him, who also heard the crying. They turned the light off, and ran out. When they got outside, they looked up and saw the light in the room on again.

“A couple of people have seen a guy in a cowboy hat walk by after the place was closed. Tom Glover, Sr. used to wear a cowboy hat, so we think it was him. Employees have seen silhouettes walk into the wall, women in heels in the garden, plates flying off the shelf. We all kind of accept it.”

History can live on in amazing ways.

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