Los Angeles’ Bradbury Building is renown as one of the finest examples of modern architecture. It is so remarkable that it has been sought after as the set for films, videos, television and the setting for books and stories. It was built in the Romanesque Revival style in 1893 under the auspices of millionaire Lewis Bradbury. The building’s architect was George Wyman.
George Wyman was actually one of the draftsmen of the architect Bradbury had hired to design the building. Bradbury was unsatisfied with the architect’s design and turned to Wyman, who drew inspiration for the building allegedly from his deceased brother via Ouija board and from a utopian sci-fi novel called “Looking Backward.”
Made out of reddish sandstone, brick and terra cotta, the exterior of the five story Bradbury Building is attractive but not stunning. People from the eastern United States might find the look of it familiar, as the Romanesque Revival style was more popular on the east coast than the west. But it is the building’s interior that caused it to be named, in 1977, a National Historic Landmark. After passing through an entrance hallway, the visitor comes into a great space that dazzles with natural light that is let in through the building’s skylight. The iron filigree that adorns the labyrinth of stairs and rails, elevators and even mail chutes also lend the space a feeling of airiness. The ironwork was made in France and is so beautiful that it was featured at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Many other elements in the building were also fabricated oversees, including Belgian marble for the stair treads and Mexican tile for the floors.
Despite its current fame, problems began with the building soon after ground was broken for it. The builders discovered that there was a spring running beneath the space where it was going to stand. However, Bradbury wanted the building that would be named after him to be built on the site and paid a great deal of money to import steel rails to bolster it. By the time the building was finished, it cost over half a million dollars. This was an astounding amount of money in the late 19th century, and for a building that was not very large. Ironically, Bradbury passed away before the building was completed. George Wyman never again achieved anything like what he had achieved for the Bradbury Building. He would go on to enroll in a correspondence course in architecture.
Despite its unusual beauty, the Bradbury Building was simply an office building for most of its life, though now it is a sort of indoor mall, with spaces for retail stores and governmental offices. Of course, film and video makers find the building, with its open staircases, soaring architecture and changeable light irresistible. It has been the site of such classic works as the “Demon With a Glass Hand” episode of the “Outer Limits,” the movies “Chinatown,” “Blade Runner” and “The Artist” and videos featuring Janet Jackson and Earth Wind and Fire.
The Bradbury Building can be found at 304 South Broadway in Los Angeles.