The Bradbury Building is an architectural landmark located at 304 South Broadway at West 3rd Street in downtown Los Angeles, California. Built in 1893, the 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. It appears in many works of fiction and has been the site of many movie and television shoots and music videos.
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.
Lewis L. Bradbury (November 6, 1823 – July 15, 1892) was a gold-mining millionaire – he owned the Tajo mine in Sinaloa, Mexico – who became a real estate developer in the later part of his life. 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. 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 – who had no formal education as an architect, and was earning $5 a week working for Hunt – at first refused the offer, but then supposedly he and his wife had a message from his dead brother Mark using a planchette board. The message was reported to be:
Mark Wyman / take the / Bradbury building / and you will be / successful
with the word "successful" written upside down. After this, Wyman took the job, and is now regarded as the architect of the building. Wyman's grandson, the science fiction publisher Forrest J. Ackerman, owned the original document containing the message until his death.
The design of the building was influenced 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." The influence of this description can be seen in the Bradbury.
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.
In 1991, a $7 million restoration and seismic retrofitting was undertaken by developer Ira Yellin and project architect Brenda Levin Associates. 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's undistinguished exterior facade of brown brick, sandstone and terra cotta detailing was designed in the commercial vernacular Italian Renaissance Revival style current at the time. It is the interior that is the most notable part of the building.
The narrow entrance lobby, with its low ceiling and minimal light "has the look of a Parisian alley of arched windows", and opens into a bright naturally lit great "awe-inspiring cathedral-like" 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 and unglazed yellow and pink bricks, ornamental cast iron, tiling, Italian marble, Mexican tile, decorative terra cotta 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. At the time the building was completed, it featured the largest plate-glass windows in Los Angeles.
"Bird-cage" elevators surrounded by wrought-iron grillwork go up to the fifth floor.
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 Chicago World's Fair before being installed in the building. Freestanding mail-chutes also feature ironwork. The overall effect is "a mesmerizing degree of symmetry and visual complexity".
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 costs 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.
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.
Since 1996, the building has served as the headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department's Internal Affairs division and other government agencies. The LAPD Board of Rights holds officer discipline hearings here, and within the force it is given the nickname "the Ovens", because officers see it as the place they "get burned." The LAPD has a 50-year lease on their space.
From 2001 to 2003 the Museum of Architecture and Design had its home in the building. In 2007, the Morono Kiang Gallery of Chinese art opened in the building.
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.
In popular culture
The Bradbury Building is featured prominently as a 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 Shockproof (1949), D.O.A. (1950), and I, The Jury (1953) (the latter filmed in 3-D). M (1951), a remake of the 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 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), where it was used as Robert Forster's office, 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 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 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.