One of downtown Los Angeles's enduring landmarks is the Bradbury Building, a unique, five-story piece of architecture on the corner of Broadway and Third that was built in 1893. Although it is often alluded to as representative of 19th century Art Nouveau style, the building's design is perhaps better described as "Eclectic Victorian Pre-Modern.''
Commissioned by local property millionaire and mining tycoon Lewis Bradbury in 1889, the Bradbury Building is the creation of George H. Wyman, a draftsman with no formal architectural or engineering training. Wyman's unusual design was accepted when local architect Sumner Hunt failed to create a plan matching the millionaire's vision for a spectacular office block.
Completion of the project required four years of construction and an investment of $500,000. Unfortunately, Bradbury passed away a few months before his building's grand opening and never had the opportunity to witness the iconic role it would play in the architectural heritage of downtown Los Angeles.
What is particularly fascinating about the Bradbury Building is the contrast between its exterior and interior facades. From the outside, it is a rather heavy, common-looking, brick and sandstone commercial office structure with inset storefronts, paired rectangular windows on the upper floors, and arched brownstone Romanesque entryways. Inside, however, it is a very different world - an enriched and leisurely space that is isolated from the hustle of the surrounding streets.
The building's airy courtyard is a "cobweb of cast iron'' featuring delicate ornamentation and topped with a glass roof. When flooded with natural light, the glazed brick walls of the inner court sparkle with an unearthly quality. Art Nouveau iron work was used exclusively for the marble stairways, open hydraulic elevator cages, and balcony rails. Architecturally, the exposed iron, glass and glazing components are a lineal descendant of Labrouste's Bibliotheque Nationale of 1858 and Eiffel's Bon Marche department store of 1876. In the early 1990s, the building underwent complete restoration as part of the Yellin Company's Grand Central Square project.
Not surprisingly, numerous Hollywood directors have chosen the Bradbury Building as a location for shooting their movies. It is perhaps most famous for its appearance in Ridley Scott's 1982 science fiction movie "Blade Runner'' as the fictional home of genetic designer J.F. Sebastian. The structure also appeared in Orson Welles' 1941 film classic "Citizen Kane'' and has more recently been used in such Hollywood productions as Chinatown, Double Indemnity, and Lethal Weapon 4.
Today, the Bradbury Building stands as the oldest commercial building remaining in the central city. In 1971, it was officially listed on National Register of Historic Places. It has been designated by the city as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #6. And in 1997 and 1998, the Building Owners and Managers Association presented the building's custodians with the BOMA Award for Excellence in Management.
The Bradbury Building is located at 304 South Broadway, Los Angeles, California 90013-1224. It is roughly 18 miles, or about 25 minutes, from Los Angeles International Airport. To get there, take the I-105 Freeway East toward Norwalk. After 6.5 miles, merge onto the I-110 Freeway North to the Fourth Street Exit 22B. From the ramp, exit left onto Fourth Street at Exit 23B. Turn left onto Broadway and the Bradbury Building can be seen directly ahead at the corner of Third Street.