My grandmother used to tell me about a magical miniature Japanese Village on a hill in Hollywood. Her stories were never the same, but she always told them with a hushed voice and a sparkle in her eyes.
I recently found a photograph of the village in a Northern California antique shop.
The miniature Japanese Village was on the grounds of an oriental style mansion built by the Bernheimer Brothers in 1914. The Bernheimer Brothers were the founders of a large department store chain and importers of Oriental art. They named their Hollywood mansion "Yamashiro," which means "Mountain Palace" in Japanese.
I don't know when or under what circumstances my grandmother visited Yamashiro -- she may have simply taken the twenty five cent public tour with family or friends -- but I would not be surprised by any gossip I heard. If she ever kissed anyone there she did not tell me, but it seems to me now that she did.
In the late 'twenties and throughout the 'thirties Yamashiro was home to Hollywood's exclusive "400 Club." My grandmother loved the glamour and excitement of the movie business and sometimes she would sneak off to Hollywood parties against the good advice and very grave warnings of her mother. Later she attended these Hollywood parties with my grandfather, and soon the two of them were married and expecting. That was of course exactly what my great-grandmother had feared would happen.
The exuberant and outlandish Hollywood parties ended with the beginning of the Second World War. My grandfather joined the Army Air Force. He wanted to be a pilot, but the army noticed his age, his family, and his movie industry connections and they made him a captain in their public relations department.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor much of Yamashiro was vandalized by angry Americans. The buildings and grounds were soon stripped bare of their Japanese ornamentation and Yamashiro became a boy's military school.
A few years after the war ended the Hollywood Bernheimer estate was purchased by Thomas O. Glover, who intended to tear Yamashiro down and build apartments.
But some of the magic must have remained so Glover changed his mind and decided to restore Yamashiro.
Today it's a restaurant, www.yamashirorestaurant.com.
More information about Yamashiro can be found by following the "Restaurant Info" link to the "History of Yamashiro" page.