- The Bradbury Building -
Downtown LA's Oldest Landmarked Building
I wrapped my hand around the hammered metal handle of the large wooden doors and with weighted force drew the heavy door towards me . A crisp air-conditioned breeze rushed over my face, as I stepped out of the summer heat and back in time to the era of invention, curiosity, and enterprise. I had been transported back to the year 1893.
Below my feet the sound of my shoes against the antique style creamy-yellow and pinkish-red tile floors made a slight echo throughout the hall announcing my presence. The warm orangey hue of the polished and unpolished brick walls surrounded me and drew attention to the stark contrast of the ornately casted wrought iron railings of the marble-stepped staircase before me. Towards the end of the hall a light shined from above hinting at the beauty that awaited me deeper within the walls of this extraordinary structure .
I had arrived at the historic and magical Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles.
Walking deeper into this beautifully crafted space the sounds of Downtown LA’s hustle and bustle melted away, and unveiled the welcoming hum of classical music playing softly in the background.
As my eyes crept upward past the glistening polished bricks, past the unpolished bricks of the upper walls, and upward still, past the carvings of the decorative terra cotta wall cornices, my breath was taken away by both the height and grandeur of the central court.
The space was abundant in aesthetic charm, mesmerizing symmetry, and visual complexity.
The interior court boasts five-stories of Victorian artistry in the form of a striking design, combining a wealth of ornamental cast iron, carved polished oak, Italian marble, Mexican tile, decorative terra cotta, and warm brick.
All this beauty is culminated in the plate-glass windows of the enormous skylight above, edged further still by clerestory windows directly below, engulfing the court in seamless streams of natural light. At the time of the building’s completion its skylight featured the largest plate-glass windows in Los Angeles.
As if that wasn’t enough to dazzle and amaze, I walked further still into the center court and was greeted by two open “birdcage” elevators sitting directly across from each other. These gorgeous antique lifts stretch upward to the fifth floor landing and are surrounded by wrought iron grillwork, and still fully operational. Directly next to each elevator stands freestanding mail-chutes also featuring the beautiful ironwork.
The sounds of classical music still played as I studied the details of this immaculate space and were only interrupted by the low chatter of other architecture enthusiasts and the footsteps of office workers. There’s something about a well-designed architectural interior that feels sacred, almost holy in presence, it quietly commands respect and admiration.
- A Brief History -
This unique architectural treasure is the oldest remaining commercial building in the central city of Los Angeles. Located at 304 South Broadway on the corner of 3rd Street and Broadway, the Bradbury Building was commissioned by gold mining tycoon and real estate millionaire Lewis Bradbury in 1892 and completed in 1893. It cost a total of $500,000 to complete, which was about three times the projects original budget [$175,000], and an equivalent of $11million today. The building owes its unique design to the architects Sumner Hunt and George H. Wyman, however there is some debate over which is truly responsible for its design.
Hunt was originally commissioned to create the office building for Bradbury and even turned in completed designs for the project, but was replaced soon after by Wyman who supervised the building’s construction. There is no evidence to suggest that Wyman changed the designs once he took over the project, however his daughter reportedly has said that her father “was asked to take over because Bradbury felt that Wyman could understand his vision for the building better than Hunt.” With that said, while George H. Wyman later designed other buildings in the Los Angeles area, none of his other works were of any lasting significance. In contrast, Sumner Hunt went on to design many other notable buildings.
So, take from that what you will.
Nevertheless, the Bradbury Building remains a monument to both Hunt and Wyman and with great merit has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971. In 1977 it was designated a National Historic Landmark, which makes it one of only four office buildings in Los Angeles to be honored with such a designation. It also has been designated a landmark by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission, making it the city’s oldest landmarked building.
Walking through the building now, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that for many years the poor thing had fallen into disrepair and decay. So much so, that is was scouted and used for the location of the 1982 classic scifi-thriller Blade Runner, and reportedly needed little done to give the appearance of a dilapidated once grand apartment building.
Luckily enough, in 1991 as part of the Yellin Company’s Grand Central Square Project, the building underwent complete restoration for a whopping $7million. The restoration included seismic retrofitting, as well as a redesign of the building’s lighting system, which included the addition of alabaster wall sconces from Spain.
Additionally, the south end rear entrance portico was added, converted from what once was a storage area, now connecting the building more directly to the adjacent Broadway Springs Center parking garage and Biddy Mason Park .
Needless to say, the building as we see it today owes its pristine condition to developer Ira Yellin and project architect Brenda Levin Associates, for their loving restoration of a structure that could have so easily been lost to the throes of time. Not to forget to mention its many historic designations, which helped to protect its very existence. Just imagine all the beautifully crafted buildings that once stood and are now strip malls and McDonalds’, I shudder at the thought.
Instead we are left with one of the greatest examples of turn of the century architectural invention – right here in the heart of Los Angeles! It’s compelling design has made it not just a favored location for architecture lovers, but also film and television makers as well, having been used as the location for many movies, television shows, commercials, and even music videos. Today, the Bradbury still operates as a working commercial space, housing the LAPD internal affairs offices (which have a 50-year lease on the space), amongst others.
With its extraordinary interior architectural design and intriguing & evocative history, the Bradbury Building is definitely a location to be experienced in person.
From the questions that surround its very conception to its fall into disrepair, to its designation to historic status, and revitalization in the early 1990s and even its Hollywood stardom, this 123-year-old building has seen a lot and has many stories to tell.
Walk-in as I did and take a look around, or for a more informative tour of this masterpiece, check out the LA Conservancy who host weekly docent lead tours.
Tours for the general pubic are $15 ($10 for conservancy members and youth 17 and under), 2-1/2 hours in length, and routes cover approximately twelve blocks and thirteen of downtown LA architectural landmarks.