The Bradbury Building is an architectural landmark in downtown Los Angeles, California, United States. The Bradbury Building is a historic landmark and architectural marvel, it’s designed majesty with fascinating and rich history. Built in 1893, still splendid more than 100 years since its opening. The five-story office building is best known for its extraordinary skylit atrium of access walkways, stairs and elevators, and their ornate ironwork. The Bradbury Building is the oldest commercial building remaining in the central city and one of Los Angeles’ unique treasures.
The most important aspect of the Bradbury Building is its architectural design, the Bradbury Building is unique not only for its dramatically projecting stair and lift towers, but also for its glazed hydraulic elevators giving access to the various office floors. These constructions serve to animate the volume of the court movement; a lively effect compounded of light filtering through the stair landings and of the oscillation of the elevator cabins. By way of contrast, the exterior of the building is traditional, being built of a mixture of sandstone and dressed brickwork.
Bradbury Building was commissioned by Los Angeles gold-mining millionaire Lewis L. Bradbury and constructed by draftsman George Wyman from the original design by Sumner Hunt. The exterior is a bit Romanesque, but the inside is positively Victorian. The famous massive atrium, which make visitors feel like stepped back in time to the golden age. Behind its modest, mildly Romanesque exterior lies a magical light-filled Victorian court that rises almost fifty feet, open cage elevators, marble stairs, and ornate iron railings make this one of downtown’s most photographed icons.
Wyman was influenced by the Utopian novel Looking Backward, during his work on the building. The vast courtyard of light, golden-hued tiles, and exotic wrought ironwork in the building were all supposedly inspired by idealized buildings described in the book. The beautiful Bradbury buliding, with its custom-made ironwork railings and elevators, quickly became LA’s most fashionable business address.
Numerous attorneys, including the Bradbury family’s personal law firm, rented suites in the building, which was also close to the courthouse and City Hall. Prominent doctors, dentists, insurance agents, and the California Southern Railroad Company had offices there too. Throughout the 1890s, the Bradbury also housed high-end retail businesses. There is a bar open at night, with the lights and shadows, there’s a dreamlike atmosphere of the building.
It appears in many works of fiction and has been the site of many movie and television shoots and music videos. The aesthetic of the Bradbury Building is so appealing that it has been used for multiple films, particularly in the sci-fi genre. The most iconic use is in the film “Bladerunner” during Deckard’s investigation of the replicants.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977, one of only four office buildings in Los Angeles to be so honored. It was also designated a landmark by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission and is the city’s oldest landmarked building. The building underwent complete restoration in the early 1990s as part of the Yellin Company’s Grand Central Square project.
A five-story office building built in 1893, the Bradbury Building was commissioned by Lewis L. Bradbury who had made his fortune from the gold mines. In 1892 he began planning 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 hired to design the building, and turned in a completed design, but Bradbury dismissed Hunt’s plans as inadequate to the grand building he wanted.
He then hired George Wyman, one of Hunt’s draftsmen, to do the design. There is no information to explain why the millionaire chose Wyman at the time. Bradbury supposedly felt that Wyman understood his own vision of the building better than Hunt did, but there is no concrete evidence that Wyman changed Hunt’s design, which has raised some controversy about who should be considered to be the architect of the building. Wyman had no formal education as an architect, and was working for Hunt for $5 a week at the time.
The building opened in 1893, some months after Bradbury’s death in 1892, and was completed in 1894, at the total cost of $500,000, about three times the original budget of $175,000.
The building has operated as an office building for most of its history. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977. It was purchased by noted developer and champion of downtown restoration Ira Yellin in the early 1980s, who invested $7 million in restoration, preservation and seismic retrofitting between 1989 and 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.
Between 1989 and 1991, Ira Yellin and his partners, working with architect Brenda Levin, spent more than $14 million to buy the Bradbury Building and seismically upgrade and rehabilitate it, thus assuring its continued survival into the twenty-first century as Los Angeles’s own “vast hall full of light.”
Since 1996, the building has served as the headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department’s Internal Affairs division and other government agencies. The building was purchased for $6 million in 2003 by a Hong Kong investor. From 2001 to 2003 the Museum of Architecture and Design had its home there. In 2007, the Morono Kiang Gallery of Chinese art opened in the building.Several of the offices are rented out to private concerns. As of 2018, the Berggruen Institute maintains its offices in the building.
The building’s undistinguished exterior facade of brown brick, sandstone and terracotta detailing was designed in the commercial vernacular Italian Renaissance Revival style current at the time. Its interior is its most notable part.The Bradbury Building was identified as Italianate Renaissance in style at the time of its completion, but it has much in common with contemporary commercial buildings in Chicago, which reflect a regional variation on the Richardsonian Romanesque style.
The tan pressed bricks and terra-cotta ornament that compose its two street facades were supplied by the Los Angeles Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company. Broad piers rise from the second to fourth stories, delimiting groups of two and three rectangular windows, while the fifth or attic story culminates in a similar alternation of round-headed lights and an ornamented terra-cotta cornice. The basement story is occupied by commercial storefronts with a single entrance leading into the building on each of its two primary facades. These are composed of red Arizona sandstone from quarries near Flagstaff, Arizona, with an arched entry set between pilasters with composite capitals.
In dramatic contrast to its exterior, the interior of this structure is dominated by a magnificent L-shaped atrium that rises to a glazed skylight. The lobby of the building is a Victorian-style central court that rises almost 50 feet to the glass ceiling where the sunlight comes through. This serves not only to illuminate the interior, but operable windowpanes in it were intended to help ventilate the building. The atrium is enclosed with a combination of cast- and wrought-iron balconies and staircases. The same light-colored, pressed-brick and terra-cotta that were employed on the exterior of the building form walls and piers on the inside and help reflect light from the skylight overhead.
The staircases are made of Italian marble with elaborate French wrought-iron railings in the art nouveau style. The balconies step back as they rise, further opening up the interior space, and they provide access to forty-six offices that encircle the periphery of the structure. Freestanding staircases dramatically articulate the end elevations of the atrium. Reminiscent of utilitarian mineshaft headframes, two open-work, hydraulic elevators extend into the center of the space, rising and falling in opposition to counter weights suspended from exposed cables and overhead pulleys. These combine with glass mail chutes to further animate the interior.
Geometric patterned staircases and wrought-iron and polished oak railings are used abundantly throughout. The wrought-iron was created in France and displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair before being installed in the building. Freestanding mail-chutes also feature ironwork. The overall effect, according to a Los Angeles Times writer, is “a mesmerizing degree of symmetry and visual complexity”.
An extravagant display of ornament and waste of space in a commercial office building was not just an aesthetic decision, the ornamentation, as well as the abundance of natural light and ventilation. The building prominently displays the latest mechanical systems, like the elevators, and it included modern plumbing, with lavatories on each floor, each with its own a porcelain-lined bathtub, and 125 wash basins in the different rooms and offices. Electrical lighting and telephone lines linked to each office space, further advertised the building as first-class office space capable of commanding the highest rental fees in the city.
It is these qualities that no doubt contributed to the Bradbury’s continued survival in the age of more modern office buildings. While occupied by numerous tenants, it was the unique quality of its grand atrium that was continually extolled over the years, leading in 1971 to the building’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places and designation as a National Historic Landmark six years later.
In popular culture
The Bradbury Building has been featured in film several times, but it seems to be particularly popular with science fiction. This isn’t surprising, perhaps, since George Wyman was allegedly inspired by a science fiction novel, Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward”, when he designed the building.
There is a particular line in the novel that really seems to describe the Bradbury Building: “I was in 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.” When you enter the light-filled atrium of The Bradbury, you’ll understand.
The Bradbury Building made a memorable place in film history as the insurance office central to the 1944 film noir classic Double Indemnity. It has subsequently been featured prominently as a setting in many films, television shows and in literature—particularly in the science fiction genre. Most notably, the building is a setting in the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner, for the character J. F. Sebastian’s apartment, and the climactic rooftop scene.
The Bradbury Building appeared in the noir films The Unfaithful (1947), Shockproof (1949), D.O.A. (1950) and I, The Jury (1953) (the latter filmed in 3-D). M (1951), a remake of the 1931 German film, contains a long search sequence filmed in the building, and a notable 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).
The building is also featured in China Girl (1942), The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), 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), 1994’s Wolf and Disclosure, Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), Pay It Forward (2000), What Women Want (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”, and the 1962 Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Double-Entry Mind”. 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), where it was used as Robert Forster’s office, City of Angels (1976) and Mission: Impossible (1966–73), as well as Ned and Chuck’s Apartment in 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 building appears as itself in multiple episodes of the fourth season of Amazon Studios’ original series Bosch, in both exterior establishing shots and interior shots.
The Bradbury appeared in a 1979 music video for “Take Me Home” by Cher, in addition to 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 prominently featured in Monica’s 1998 single “The First Night” as well in Tony! Toni! Toné!’s “Let’s Get Down” music video. In 2016, the interiors were featured in the music video for “The Road” by Chinese musician Huang Zitao.
The Bradbury has frequently appeared in popular literature. In the “Nathan Heller” series of detective novels by Max Allan Collins, Heller’s A-1 Detective Agency’s Los Angeles offices are housed in the Bradbury, as shown in the novel Angel in Black. 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 appearances occur in The Man With The Golden Torc by Simon R. Green, Angels Flight and The Black Box by Michael Connelly, 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.
The building was used for the music video for “Say Something”, a song released on January 25, 2018 by Justin Timberlake featuring Chris Stapleton.
The Bradbury Building was featured in “On Location”, episode 172 of the podcast 99% Invisible.
The building interior was shown in the title sequence for the TV series The Ray Bradbury Theater, which aired from 1985 to 1992.
The building is a popular tourist attraction. It is open daily and staffed by a government worker who provides historical background on it. Casual visitors are only permitted up to the first landing. Brochures and tours are also available. It is close to three other downtown Los Angeles landmarks: the Grand Central Market, the Million Dollar Theater (across the street) and Angels Flight (two blocks away). Access is via the Los Angeles MTA Red Line’s Civic Center exit, three blocks distant.