Modern Design for The Bradbury Building

One cannot guess from the Bradbury Building’s modest Renaissance Revival exterior of brown brick, sandstone, and terra cotta detailing, that it holds an interior that has fascinated and delighted visitors for all of its 122 years. The inside of the oldest commercial building in downtown LA is filled with natural light – one of our essentials – due to a 50 foot high skylight roof that encompasses the entire structure. Reminiscent of a Victorian train station, the light softly illuminates the lavish wide Italian marble stairways, intricate birdcage elevators, French wrought-iron grillwork, ornate iron railings, warm red, yellow, and pink brickwork, decorative tiling, and carved polished wood. The effect is a beautiful balance of reasoned symmetry and exciting complexity.

The most photographed building in town; it 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. The Bradbury Building is also featured in Marlowe (1969), Chinatown (1974), and The Artist (2011) among dozens more films and television episodes.

But the building has its own literary and dramatic backstory. Lewis Bradbury, a mining tycoon commissioned Sumner Hunt to create a singular office building worthy of bearing his name. The design of the building was influenced by the 1887 science fiction book, Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy, which described a utopian society in the faraway future of 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."

But after looking at the designs Bradbury felt Hunt did not entirely share his vision, and apparently in an impulsive huff turned to Hunt’s draftsman, George H. Wyman, and offered him the job. Spiritualism being in vogue at the time, Wyman and his wife felt the need to consult Wyman’s dead brother via an Ouija board type device called a planchette, a small platform for fingers to rest on which has a pencil attached for the spirits to write with. The brother spoke, and the message was, “Take the Bradbury job.”  Good advice.

How much the design changed from Hunt’s original remains unclear. The building opened in 1893, a few months after Bradbury's death in 1892, at a total cost of $500,000 -about three times the original budget. The building underwent complete restoration in 1993 including seismic, code, and infrastructure upgrades.

Arts and Architecture says of the building, “It is a forever young building, out of a youthful and vigorous imagination. But it has left nothing to chance. Stairways leap into space because of endless calculations. The skylight is a fairy tale of mathematics."