The Bradbury Building, Los Angeles

The Bradbury Building, Los Angeles

Just before Philip K Dick died in 1982 executives at Warner Bros Studios arranged for him to see rough cuts of the film Blade Runner, a project inspired by his novel ‘Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep’. The author had been hitherto suspicious of the movie adaptation but after seeing the rushes he noted that the film would ‘change the way we look at movies’. The prescient Mr Dick was on the money and Ridley Scott’s vision of a dystopian Los Angeles became the cinematic yard stick by which depictions of the future are still measured today. Though a great deal of the film was shot on vast studio backlots, locations in downtown LA were also employed to depict a grimmer, grimier tomorrow. The monumental architecture of Union Station doubled as a police station, while the magically named Million Dollar Theatre formed part of the futuristic streetscape. One of the most memorable scenes takes place in the apartment of prematurely ageing genetic designer J.F. Sebastian whose fictional home was created in the Bradley Building, a superb late nineteenth century office block which, fan of the film or not, is certainly worth a visit.

The reasons why the building was chosen as a sci-fi location are clear as soon as you step through the brown brick Romanesque entrance. Once inside you are presented with a sensational five storey high central court yard topped with a glass roof which allows the glazed brick walls to sparkle in natural light. Directly facing the entrance is a marble stair case lined with ornate railings flanked by two open cage elevators surrounded by wrought iron grills. The French made metal work was also used in the construction of the freestanding mail-chutes and was made to give the illusion of hanging vegetation. Despite being completed in 1893 the fusion of geometric design and exquisite materials allows the building to conjure the neat trick of appearing timeless.

The driving force behind the creation of such an exciting space was local property millionaire Lewis Bradbury who initially tasked local architect Sumner Hunt with the job of masterminding a spectacular office block. Sadly for Hunt his plans did not match the grandiose vision of his pay master, and the frustrated Bradbury unexpectedly turned to draftsman George Wyman for an alternative design. Given Wyman’s total lack of formal training as an architect he seemed an odd choice for such a major project. Stranger still was that his initial refusal to take up the challenge was only reversed following an evening spent dabbling with the occult. The story goes that George received a Ouija board message from his dead brother saying "Mark Wyman - take the -Bradbury building - and you will be - successful".

Wyman was right to follow the ghostly advice receiving international acclaim for a design which was to be the only commercial success of his career. Sadly Lewis Bradbury had to enjoy his architectural namesake from the spirit world, dying just a few months before the grand opening. He did however have the pleasure of covering the spiraling costs which went from an estimated $175,000 to a massive $500,000, an inordinate amount of money at the time.

Bradbury and Wyman’s creation is now an iconic part of the downtown LA’s architectural heritage but they could never have imagined that their building would one day be seen by millions in movie theatres across the globe. Indeed the Bradbury has a long list of credits beyond Blade Runner playing a supporting role in other classics such as Citizen Kane, Chinatown, Double Indemnity and not forgetting the masterpiece that is Lethal Weapon 4.

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You would love a recent documentary called "Los Angeles Plays Itself" by Thom Anderson. This building and many others play an important role in the documentary, which talks about the history of L.A. architecture as seen in the background of Hollywood film. (It's also a requiem for lost architecture). It's three hours long and it goes by like 20 minutes. It's also very hard to see, and as it consists of nothing but video excerpts, won't be on DVD anytime soon. But there's always hope in the bootleg market...

You might want to check my review here. This is a great blog, btw, I just came across it through Subject Barred.

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