Forgotten Landmark-Bernheimer Oriental Gardens, Pacific Palisades (CA)

Site of Bernheimer Oriental Gardens, 16980 Sunset Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, CA (Pic from Microsoft Bing Maps 12/10/2010)

From an Oriental gatehouse, a palm-lined private road led to a hill crowned by a group of small one-room Japanese houses the home of Adolph Bernheimer, a cotton exporter and designer of the gardens, who in 50 years made 17 trips to the Orient collecting the treasures in the house and gardens. To the left of the gatehouse was a reproduction of the stables in the temple grounds at Nikko, Japan, in the black, mauve, and gold colors characterizing all the buildings. Beside the stables was a rock-lined lily pool with a bronze miniature of Lao-tse, Chinese philosopher of the 6th century B.C., mounted on a horse.

The exceptionally life-like bronze figure of Ten-Jin, ninth-century Japanese religious teacher, mounted on a representation of a sacred ox, watched over the entrance to the flower and bronze-lined path which winds to the Bernheimer home. Each room of the home was a separate house, although the four units were connected by pergolas. Treasures included color paintings on rice paper many hundreds of years old, bridal and temple kimonos, fingernail tapestries woven by specially-grown fingernails; and two pairs of devil-dogs, the traditional protectors from evil spirits, the female of each pair represented with suckling pups. More bronzes enhanced the downward path to the Sunken Garden, among them a Burmese Buddha in a “wishing well.” At the bottom was a miniature lake, replete with miniature temples and figures of warriors and elephants.

Bernheimer, a native of New York, began collecting Oriental objects in 1887, came to Los Angeles in 1913, and in 1915 created an Oriental garden on a hilltop near Hollywood Boulevard and Franklin Avenue. Work was begun on the present location in 1925 and completed in 1927. Total expenditures came to $3,000,000.

7 thoughts on “Forgotten Landmark-Bernheimer Oriental Gardens, Pacific Palisades (CA)

  1. Very nostalgic. My grandmother was with Adolph Bernheimer from the late 1920’s until his death in 1944, first as his nurse, later as his business partner. She inherited the property along with erosion and financial difficulties. I spent many summers there in the late 30’s and lived there for several years in the 40’s. Even in a progressive state of decline it was like living in paradise. The traces that remain are sadly nostalgic, some of the flowers my grandmother planted still grow wild.

    1. My father would tell me about visiting his grandmother who was a nurse there and how beautiful and peaceful the place was. He wants to go back there someday I wonder if he is related somehow

      1. Don’t know how long the comment was posted … it hid away.
        Interesting, my grandmother was the nurse from 1927 ’til Adolph Bernheimer’s death. Could we be related? ML

    1. No. The land went into foreclosure and was lost to our family in 1948. My grandmother had borrowed $25,000 to move the main house and raze the hill due to the landslides in 1945, and was not able to recover financially in order to pay the loan.

  2. A shame and sad story – hopefully it will be a park very soon (2027) with history plaques from the Chumas Tribe, Mule Camp and Gardens.

    Saw homeless people living there too before the fence was erected.

    I catch the bus close to the entrance, the wooden electric poles are still there alongside Sunset and on the opposite side of Sunset, the eucalyptus trees have grown.

    You cannot build on the soil that “moves”. There’s been at least 2 landslides too. Some people were doing a survey in early February 2021, apparently, someone wants to build on top of it.

    And the people that rent at the Pacific Gardens Apartments are oblivious to what they “see” from their balconies.

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