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A Los Angeles Landmark: The Bradbury Building

Feb 01, 2011 by Lisa Newton

Built in 1893, the Bradbury Building, located at 304 South Broadway in downtown Los Angeles and is an architectural landmark.

Named after its visionary, Lewis L. Bradbury, a mining millionaire, first hired Sumner Hunt to put his imaginative design on paper. Falling short of his expectations, Bradbury looked to George Wyman design the five-story office building.

Wyman, who at that time was only a young apprentice architect working under Hunt, at first refused the commission.

But, the decision to accept this enormous project was ultimately made by Wyman’s 22-year old brother, Mark, who had been dead for six years.

One Saturday evening, as Wyman and his wife sat at a planchette board – a forerunner of the Ouija board, equipped with a pencil to write out "spirit" messages – long dead Mark communicated with his brother. The message read: “Take Bradbury Building. It will make you famous.” The word Bradbury was written upside down, but the message was clear. With the assurance from the spiritual world, the Bradbury-Wyman partnership was born. Source: Public Art in LA

Influenced by Edward Bellamy’s 1887 science fiction book entitled, Looking Backward, which described a Utopian culture in the year 2000, Wyman proceeded to work on his design. Bellamy’s book described the typical commercial building

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 were frescoed in mellow tints, to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior.

This became the Bradbury Building, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977. Designed in an Italian Renaissance Revival style, it features an exterior facade of brown brick, sandstone and panels of terra cotta details. But the real story of the Bradbury is in the its inside:

Great center court with its natural lighting

When you visit, be sure to look for the details like:

  • Great center court with its natural lighting
  • Ornately designed railings of wrought iron which give the illusion of hanging vegetation
  • Cage elevators that are surrounded by wrought-iron grillwork
  • Mail chutes which are actually tall poles of metal not supported by any wall
  • Mexican tile floors
  • Imported Belgian marble in the staircases

Originally estimated to cost $175,000, the totally cost was around $500,000 (which in 2008 dollars translates to $11 million). Sadly, Bradbury never saw the completion of his vision, dying a few months before it opened.

Ornately designed railings of wrought iron which give the illusion of hanging vegetation

Amazingly, what started from science fiction came to also be known as the fictional residence of Ridley Scott’s Sebastian, from the science fiction book and later movie entitled Blade Runner. At that time, the Bradbury Building wasn’t in the restored state you can currently see.

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Architecture, Culture, Family, SoCal

One Response to “A Los Angeles Landmark: The Bradbury Building”

  1. Scott Piotrowski says:

    To me, this building is also significant as the beginning of the end of Route 66. Lying at Broadway and 5th, it is a mere two blocks from the original western terminus of the Mother Road at 7th and Broadway. These last two blocks are extremely beautiful in my opinion, and the Bradley is the cornerstone of it all.


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