You wouldn’t think an office building would rank #34 of 595 things to do in Los Angeles, but the Bradbury Building does just that. You definitely want to add it to your places to see in Los Angeles if you are near downtown.
Perhaps it is because it is the oldest landmarked building in Los Angeles that makes it a favorite tourist attraction. Or possibly because it has starred in more movies than any other building in Los Angeles (if not more than any building anywhere). There is the element of the occult that stems back to the architect’s use of a Ouija Board in the process of designing the building that may add to its mystique.
Most likely though, it is because what is a rather plain, boring looking building on the outside is a stunning architectural masterpiece on the inside. That awe inspiring first glance makes the visit worth the trip. Built in 1893, the five-story office building is best known for its extraordinary skylit atrium, stairs, landings and elevators, and their ornate ironwork. Human conductors still operate the hydraulic powered “bird-cage” elevators.
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 Bradbury’s Occult Beginnings
The Bradbury is named after Lewis Bradbury, a gold-mining millionaire who decided he wanted to make a building with his name on it. In 1892, Bradbury commissioned Sumner Hunt, a famous architect, to design his building. Bradbury didn’t like any of the plans that Hunt showed him, so he asked George Wyman, one of Hunt’s draftsmen to design his office building.
Wyman was hesitant. He had no professional training as an architect and didn’t want to be seen as taking business away from his boss. But it was also a great opportunity so Wyman decided to consult his dead brother for advice. Using an Ouija board that wrote out sentences with a pencil when you rested your hands on it his deceased brother – as the story goes – told him to take the building job. So, qualified or not Wyman took the commission.
The Bradbury Building in Films
The Bradbury Building has appeared in so many movies, television series and music videos that it simply isn’t possible to list them all. I counted about 50 listed on various sources. It made its first on-screen appearance in 1942, in the movie China Girl, when became a Burmese hotel. It became a London military hospital in White Cliffs of Dover in 1944. The Bradbury’s most famous role was as the toymaker’s house in the 1982 movie Blade Runner where it appears as dark, moody ruin.
There are a number of reasons the Bradbury rose to stardom. The beautiful stairways and landings with their ornate ironwork combined with the moody light filtering through the building from the skylights make it contribute great impact to a scene. Abundant balconies allow film crews to shoot from numerous angles. The layout makes it perfect for positioning lighting and equipment and, unlike many downtown locations, it is near parking lots for the crews and production equipment.
Today, most of the office space in the Bradbury belongs to the internal affairs division of the Los Angeles Police Department. So if you are planning to film there plan on having all your paperwork and permits in order!
Visiting the Bradbury
As noted in the first paragraph, the Bradbury 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, but from what I have heard the tours don’t allow you to go anywhere you can’t access on your own. This is one time where you are better off skipping the tour and looking around for yourself.
It’s close to three other downtown Los Angeles landmarks. The Grand Central Market and the Million Dollar Theater are both directly across the street. And the beloved Angels Flight Incline Railway is just two blocks away. I consider the dollar it will cost you to ride Angels Flight the best money you will spend on your visit to Los Angeles!
The Bradbury Building is located at 304 South Broadway in downtown Los Angeles
And as a closing note, the draftsman George Wyman decided to take some classes and actually become an architect after the building was completed.