Sylvia Wu, famous in the south California The restaurant that attracted Hollywood’s biggest star in four decades has passed away at the age of 106, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Madame Wu’s Garden on Wilshire Street in Santa Monica became a dining destination soon after it opened in 1959, and is famous for its pagoda-style kitchen and décor featuring jade statues, a stone waterfall, and a fountain filled with koi.
Wu herself famously wore a floor-length silk gown as she alternately greeted Hollywood’s elite and picked up the phone for quick orders. She died on September 19.
She was inspired to open the restaurant after arriving from China and finding only heavy Cantonese dishes. “Chop suey is everywhere,” she complained to USA Today. “All you see are Chop Sue houses.”
At Madame Wu’s Garden, Mae West preferred cold watermelon soup, Gregory Peck and Paul Newman enjoyed shrimp toast and crab puffs, while Princess Grace of Monaco preferred Peking duck, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Everyone in this town knows Madame Wu,” the late TV host Merv Griffin once told the newspaper. “One of the dearest, sweetest, most elegant women I have ever known.”
She immediately regretted closing the restaurant in 1998, and opened Madame Wu’s Asian Bistro & Sushi. This restaurant did not last but affection for Wu persisted. When she turned 100 in 2014, her old clients filled a hotel ballroom for her birthday party.
Born Sylvia Cheng on October 24, 1915, Wu grew up in Jiujiang, southwest of Shanghai, where she learned to cook while watching a maid prepare meals for her well-to-do family.
The family moved to Shanghai and then Hong Kong. During World War II, she boarded a navy ship to New York City.
She later remembers: “I don’t know how I had the guts.” “I had no family in America. The trip took 40 days, and because of the war there were blackouts along the way.”
While studying for a degree at Columbia University, she met King Yan Wu, a successful chemist. They married, had three children and moved to Los Angeles, where he took an engineering job at Hughes Aircraft Co. and became a restaurateur.
Wu has also written cookbooks, has appeared regularly on television, and has been active in philanthropy, particularly at the City of Hope Cancer Center after her daughter Loretta died of breast cancer at the age of 34.
Wu is survived by her sons George and Patrick and several grandchildren, according to the Los Angeles Times. Her husband passed away in 2011, and the two had been married for 67 years.
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