Built in the past, intended for the future, and trapped in the present, the interior of the Bradbury Building looks like something out of a science-fiction movie.
This vintage structure, which was commissioned by mining millionaire Lewis Bradbury, is the oldest commercial building and an architectural landmark in Los Angeles. The Bradbury building bears the name of its commissioner and has been around for nearly 130 years, during which time it has become an important piece of Los Angeles’ history.
Its remarkable history goes back to 1892 when Lewis Bradbury, a gold-mining millionaire, and a real estate developer, decided he wanted to make a building with his name on it. So he commissioned Sumner Hunt, who worked in Los Angeles from 1888-1930 and was one of the most prominent architects of the time, to design a building that would bear his name.
Hunt and his partners started working on the project, and when they had finished some of the plans, he invited Bradbury to come and check them out. Mr. Bradbury wasn’t impressed with what he saw in Hunt’s office, but as he was on his way to leave he met one of Hunt’s draftsmen, a young man named George Wyman. It is not clear why, but Bradbury decided that the young and inexperienced draftsman was the perfect man to design his half-million dollar office building, so he asked him to do it.
Wyman was speechless; he has never dreamed that he would receive an offer of this caliber and didn’t know what to do. It was evident that he was completely unqualified for the job, and he also thought that by accepting the offer he would offend his boss.
However, after a lot of thinking, he decided that the most reasonable thing he could do was to consult his dead brother. Although his decision sounds quite weird these days, the 19th century was the golden era of belief in supernatural forces and energies, and many people were convinced that spirits could communicate with the living.
By using a planchette, a precursor to the Ouija board, Wyman, along with his wife, traced out the following message: Take the Bradbury building, and you will be… Successful! Now he had no doubts that accepting Bradbury’s offer was the right thing to do.
It seems that Wyman liked reading science-fiction novels and he was inspired to design Bradbury after he read Edward Bellamy’s 1887 novel Looking Backwards, a utopian science fiction novel that takes place in the year 2000.
One particular passage describing a building from the future became his main inspiration:
“It was the first interior of a twentieth-century public building that I had ever beheld, and the spectacle naturally impressed me deeply. I was in 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.
Beneath it, in the center of the hall, a magnificent fountain played, cooling the atmosphere to a delicious freshness with its spray. The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior. Around the fountain was a space occupied with chairs and sofas, on which many persons were seated conversing.”
The interior of the Bradbury Building is quite similar to Bellamy’s description, and as we mentioned above, it looks like something out of a science-fiction movie. The eclectic Victorian design of the interior didn’t go unnoticed by Hollywood, and throughout the years the Bradbury Building became the biggest architectural movie star in L.A.
It made its first on-screen appearance as a Burmese hotel in the 1942 movie China Girl, and since then the building has featured prominently as a setting in many films, particularly in the science fiction genre. It appeared in the noir films Shockproof (1949), D.O.A. (1950), and I, The Jury (1953).
It also featured in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity and Mike Nichols’ film, Wolf, starring Jack Nicholson and many other movies, television shows, and comic books. However, its most famous role to date has to be as the Toymaker’s house in Ridley Scott’s neo-noir science fiction classic, Blade Runner.
Today this architectural marvel is a popular tourist destination, and it serves as the headquarters for the Marvel Comics team The Order and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs.