The Bradbury Building is an architectural landmark in downtown Los Angeles, California. Built in 1893, the building was commissioned by LA mining millionaire Lewis L. Bradbury and designed by local draftsman George Wyman.
It is located at 304 South Broadway and 3rd Street, and has been the site of many movie and television shoots, rock videos, and works of fiction. It’s the location of the office of Eagon Quinn, a character in my Mike Montego novels, set in 1960’s Los Angeles.
Lewis L. Bradbury (November 6, 1823–July 15, 1892) was a mining millionaire – he owned a mine named Tajo in Sinaloa, Mexico – who became a real estate developer in the latter part of his life. He planned in 1892 to construct a five story building at Broadway and Third Street in Los Angeles, close to the Bunker Hill neighborhood.
A local architect, Sumner Hunt, was first hired to complete a design for the building, but Bradbury dismissed Hunt’s plans as inadequate to the grandeur of his vision. He then hired George Wyman, one of Hunt’s draftsmen, to design the building.
Wyman at first refused the offer, but then supposedly had a ghostly talk with his brother Mark Wyman (who had died six years previously), while using a planchette board with his wife. The ghost’s message supposedly said “Mark Wyman / take the / Bradbury building / and you will be / successful” with the word “successful” written upside down. After the episode, Wyman took the job, and is now regarded as the architect of the Bradbury Building. Wyman’s grandson, the science fiction publisher Forrest J. Ackerman, owned the original document containing the message until his death. Coincidentally, Ackerman was a close friend of science fiction author Ray Bradbury.
Wyman was especially influenced in constructing the building by the 1887 science fiction book Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, which described a utopian society in 2000.
In Bellamy’s book, the average commercial building was described as a “vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above … The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior.” This description greatly influenced the Bradbury Building.
A restoration and seismic retrofitting was undertaken by developer Ira Yellin and project architect Brenda Levin Associates in 1991. As part of the restoration, a storage area at the south end of the building was converted to a new rear entrance portico, connecting the building more directly to Biddy Mason Park and the adjacent Broadway Spring Center parking garage. The building’s lighting system was also redesigned, bringing in alabaster wall sconces from Spain.
The building features an Italian Renaissance Revival -style exterior façade of brown brick, sandstone and panels of terra cotta details, in the “commercial Romanesque Revival” that was the current idiom in East Coast American cities. But the magnificence of the building is the interior: reached through the entrance, with its low ceiling and minimal light, it opens into a bright naturally lit great center court.
Robert Forster, star of the TV series Banyon that used the building for his office, described it as “one of the great interiors of L.A. Outside it doesn’t look like much, but when you walk inside, suddenly you’re back a hundred and twenty years.”
The five-story central court features glazed brick, ornamental cast iron, tiling, rich marble, and polished wood, capped by a skylight that allows the court to be flooded with natural rather than artificial light, creating ever-changing shadows and accents during the day.
Cage elevators surrounded by wrought-iron grillwork go up to the fifth floor.
Geometric patterned staircases and wrought-iron railings are used abundantly throughout. The wrought iron was created in France and displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair before being installed in the building. Freestanding mail-chutes also feature ironwork.
The walls are made of pale glazed brick. The marble used in the staircase was imported from Belgium, and the floors are Mexican tiles.
During construction an active spring was found beneath the work-site, posing a threat to ongoing work on the building by weakening the foundation. However, Mr. Bradbury was very committed to the project, which he believed to be the greatest monument possible to his memory. Consequently, he imported massive steel rails from Europe to bolster the building and allow its construction to continue.
The initial estimate for the construction of the building was $175,000, but the final cost at completion was over $500,000—an extremely large amount for those times. Using the GDP Deflator method, this amount translates to more than $11 million in 2008 dollars.
Lewis Bradbury died months before the building opened in 1893, although it stands as a testament to his and George Wyman’s vision.
The building has operated as an office building for most of its history. It was purchased by Ira Yellin in the early 1980s, and remodeled in the 1990s. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
The building has served as headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department’s Internal Affairs division and currently is used by other government agencies. Several of the offices are rented out to private concerns, including Red Line Tours. The retail spaces on the first floor currently house Ross Cutlery (where O.J. Simpson purchased a stiletto that figured in his murder trial), a Subway sandwich restaurant, a Sprint cell phone store, and a real estate sales office for loft conversions in other nearby historic buildings.
The building is a popular tourist attraction. Visitors are welcome daily and greeted by a government worker who provides historical facts and information about the building. Visitors are allowed up to the first landing but not past it. Brochures and tours are also available. It is close to three other downtown Los Angeles Landmarks: the Grand Central Market and the Million Dollar Theater (across the street) and Angels Flight (two blocks away). The building is accessible from the Los Angeles MTA Red Line via the Civic Center exit three blocks distant.
The Bradbury Building is featured prominently as the setting in films, television, and literature – particularly in the science fiction genre. Most notably, the building is the setting for both the climactic rooftop scene of Blade Runner (1982), as well as the set of the character J. F. Sebastian’s apartment in which much of the film’s story unfolds.
The Bradbury Building appeared prominently in the noir films D.O.A.’(1950) and I, The Jury (1953). M (1951), a remake of the German film, contains a long search sequence filmed in the building, and a spectacular shot through the roof’s skylight. The five-story atrium also substituted for the interior of the seedy skid row hotel depicted in the climax of Good Neighbor Sam (1964), supposedly set in San Francisco but almost entirely shot in Los Angeles.
The Bradbury Building is also featured in The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), The Indestructible Man (1956), Caprice (1967), Marlowe (1969), the 1972 made-for-television movie The Night Strangler, Chinatown (1974), The Cheap Detective (1978), Avenging Angel (1985), Murphy’s Law (1986), The Dreamer of Oz (1990 TV movie), 1994’s Wolf and Disclosure, Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), Pay It Forward (2000), (500) Days of Summer (2009), and The Artist (2011).
Television series that featured the building include the 1964 The Outer Limits episode “Demon with a Glass Hand.” During the season six episodes (1963–64) of the series 77 Sunset Strip, the Stuart “Stu” Bailey character had his office in the Bradbury. In Quantum Leap the building is seen carrying the name “Gotham Towers” in Play It Again, Seymour, the last episode of the first season (1989). The building appeared in at least one episode of the television series Banyon (1972–73), City of Angels (1976) and Mission: Impossible (1966–73), as well as in the “Ned and Chuck’s Apartment” episode of Pushing Daisies, which debuted in 2007. The building was also the setting for a scene from the series FlashForward in the episode “Let No Man Put Asunder.” In 2010 the building was transplanted to New York City for a two-part episode of CSI NY. The Bradbury Building and a fake New York City subway entrance across the street were also used to represent the exterior of New York’s High School for the Performing Arts in the opening credits of the television series Fame.
The Bradbury appeared in music videos from the 1980s by Heart, Janet Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire and Genesis, and a Pontiac Pursuit commercial. Part of Janet Jackson’s 1989 film short Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 was filmed in the building as well. The interior appears in the music video for the Pointer Sisters’ 1980 song, “He’s So Shy.” The Bradbury Building was also used for Tony! Toni! Toné!’s “Let’s Get Down” music video.
The building was featured in the photography on the Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 box, while the personal computer game SimCity 3000 shows the building as one of many built in the so-called Medium Commercial zones.
The Bradbury has been frequently alluded to in popular literature. In Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, the protagonist refers to Philip Marlowe, who would “feel homesick for the lacework balconies of the Bradbury Building.” In the Star Trek novel The Case of the Colonist’s Corpse: A Sam Cogley Mystery, the protagonist works from the Bradbury Building four hundred years in the future. Other allusions occur in The Man With The Golden Torc by Simon R. Green, and the science fiction multiple novel series The World Of Tiers by Philip Jose Farmer.
DC Comics and Marvel Comics – the latter of which has offices in the real Bradbury Building – both published comic book series based on characters that work in the historic landmark. The building serves as the headquarters for the Marvel Comics team The Order, and in the DC universe, the Human Target runs his private investigation agency from the building.