It’s the year 1892 in Downtown Los Angeles, and the daunting, sea captain-turned-mining tycoon Lewis L. Bradbury approaches local draftsman George Wyman to erect the building of all buildings that will carry his legacy for eternity. Legend has it that Wyman then turned to a planchette — the predecessor of today’s Ouija board — to ask his deceased brother for advice. From the beyond came a simple prophecy: “take the job — it will make you famous”, and the rest is history.
While in actuality the building was most likely designed by prominent architect Sumner Hunt, such is one of many urban legends surrounding the momentous Bradbury Building, an ancient establishment one must see to believe. Its “late Victorian Romanesque exterior is handsome but modest, presenting absolutely no street-side hint of its interior beauty,” describes Bruce Scottow, the LA Conservancy educational coordinator. But step inside, and the edifice transforms into an ornate, visually stunning main hall. The cast iron railings and Victorian-style open caged elevators, imported from France, compliment the Belgian marble that glows with the flooding light from the building’s towering glass dome. Such an establishment seems only feasible in the dreams of a Jay Gatsby or Willy Wonka, yet it stands fully realized between Spring Street and Broadway.
The building has lent itself well to film and fiction, most likely due to its inspirational roots. The Bradbury’s construction is thought to have sprung from Edward Bellamy’s 1887 novel Looking Backward, which illustrates a futuristic building constructed in the year 2000, featuring “a vast hall full of light received…from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above” — a 130-year-old description that perfectly matches the building’s luminescent lobby today. The Bradbury is also prominently featured in many cinematic classics including Chinatown and Bladerunner, standing as a treasured destination for film enthusiasts and historians alike. Besides absorbing the architectural magnificence from the first floor, “visitors are encouraged to explore the back (east) side of the building, whose hallway leads out to Biddy Mason Park”, a hidden park known to few, Scottow explains. Directly across the street reside Grand Central Market and the impressive Million Dollar Theatre, for continued historic entertainment.
So, seize the chance to fall down the rabbit hole, tour the chocolate factory, even reach the green light at the end of the dock with a visit to the iconic Bradbury. It may have come from fiction, but it is very real, and it’s waiting.