Yamashiro is one of those rare places that could only exist in LA: an exquisite hilltop palace commissioned by two German brothers, built by Japanese craftsmen in then-rural Hollywood, transformed from a private home to a tourist attraction to a military school, and narrowly avoiding a postwar hotel conversion to become the famous restaurant it still is today.
Writing this entry hurts on a personal level: Yamashiro has been one of my dad's favorite restaurants since the 1970s. In fact, a couple of years ago I gifted him some rare antique ephemera from Yamashiro's tourist-attraction days.
I was shocked and dismayed to find out that the RSO apartments on the Yamashiro property were being misused as hotel rooms - and that the illegal hotel rooms have been operating for about 20 years.
Due to wartime anti-Japanese sentiment, Yamashiro was targeted by vandals, and its appearance was disguised to deter further attacks. Landlord Thomas O. Glover bought the property in 1948, intending to convert the property into a hotel and apartments. When the building's carefully applied disguise was removed, revealing its stunning true appearance, Glover scrapped that plan and decided to restore it instead.
Glover and his son, Thomas Y. Glover, did indeed restore Yamashiro. There was plenty of space to add apartments to the seven-acre parcel, which they did around 1950 (thus making the apartments subject to RSO). The apartments are in multiple smaller buildings spread around the hill; a 1972 news blurb notes that a fire burned down a four-unit building on the property in addition to killing a tenant.
When the property sold to JE Group in 2016, the LA Times noted that its chairman "vowed to keep open both the restaurant and the Hollywood Hills Hotel and Apartments, which has a mix of 43 units." Meaning that the RSO units were still rented to tenants at least as late as 2016.
ZIMAS paints a very interesting picture. When I looked up permits for 1999 Sycamore (which is the address of both the restaurant and the "hotel") I saw wording like "Kitchen/bathroom remodel for residential buildings". RESIDENTIAL. As in, housing, not a hotel. That permit application was from 2017.
Interestingly, there are a number of expired permits from 2007.
ZIMAS clearly states that the property is subject to RSO, not an Ellis Act property, subject to the Housing Element, and has been used for housing within the past five years. The property also benefits from the Mills Act's substantial tax savings.
A 2010 determination letter describes the "Hollywood Hills Hotel Apartments" as "apartment-hotel units" and refers to the people staying in the units as "tenants". Not "hotel guests". Huh.
Yamashiro sold for a significantly lower price than expected, likely because RSO units tend to bring in lower rents. But if the ugly Jose Huizar vs. DTLA saga has taught us anything (besides the shocking amount of damage one corrupt politician can cause), it's that overseas owners DGAF about Angelenos.
The hotel charges about $300 per night. That's a lot of money compared to the $2000+ per month that most rental apartments in the same zip code cost full-time renters.
Update: a former repeat guest of the Yamashiro apartments (name withheld by request) states "I stayed at the apartments when visiting for years. They...were basic but wonderful. Since the new owners took over they modernised the cute rooms cheaply, massively upped the prices and let everything get really run down. There were lots of tenants when I started staying there 20 years ago but fewer as the years went on. It seems to be a party spot now, with no management on site and the pool keeps getting closed for health violations. It's really sad." (Emphasis mine.)
Incidentally, I found a classified ad for the Yamashiro apartments, dated 1959, that advertised spacious 1- and 2-bedroom apartments from $160 per month, or $1,672.18 in 2023 dollars, including a patio, pool, and that incredible view. Another ad, dated 1973, advertised a one-bedroom apartment for $150 per month (I'm told the units were run-down by the 1960s). That's $1,027.46 in 2023 dollars.
To put it bluntly, JE Group is greedily hoarding badly needed RSO housing, and that is completely unacceptable.
And it gets worse: a reader reached out to inform me that the Hollywood Community Plan Update included a sneaky zoning change. Yamashiro has historically been zoned residential, and needed a conditional use permit to operate the restaurant. The HCPU quietly changed the zoning to commercial...an underhanded move that was only noticed by Hollywood Heritage.
And because this isn't a bad enough story already...one of Yamashiro's owners is being charged with PPP fraud. Cole Harris, who ran for Lieutenant Governor and lost (and was sued for not paying his campaign advisors), was indicted in February. Cole's "wife" (they were not legally married) fled to China before she could be arrested.
Yamashiro is in Nithya Raman's district. I will be writing to her office about this, and I suggest readers do the same.
Edited to add: CD4's planning director can be reached at email@example.com.
UPDATE 7/18: Last week I wrote to the Department of City Planning and asked if the Yamashiro property was approved for home-sharing. (In theory, short-term rental hosts have to apply for city approval. In practice, the home-sharing ordinance is rampantly ignored.) Here is the response I received today:
This email is in response to your July 13, 2023, request. See the Planning Department's responses and attachments.
1. 1999 N Sycamore Ave is NOT approved for Home-Sharing.
2. Documentation is attached.
4. Enforcement actions included a first and second warning and a Home-Sharing violation; documentation has been attached.
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.
You heard it from the city, readers: the "Hollywood Hills Hotel" is DEFINITELY ILLEGAL.
Airbnb listings for the property say (down at the bottom) "Exempt - This listing is a hotel or motel". Lies, lies, lies - the city says it's a homeshare violation!
I've uploaded the documentation here. Citations for violating the home-sharing ordinance date back to 2018. As you can see, the owners have been ignoring the law and lying about it for years.
The last document, a home-sharing affidavit, is particularly sickening. Besides having two places for the signature of disgraced co-owner Cole Harris, the affidavit claims that Freddy Braidi, who is a member of Yamashiro's restaurant management company, resides on the property.
I did not believe this for a second, of course, and it took me less than a minute to find Braidi's actual address (which I will not post here because there are rules about doxxing).
Besides the CD4 office, I will be having a VERY long talk with Airbnb about this. Please spread the word.