AKA: Bryson-Bonebrake Block, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA; Los Angeles National Bank, Building #2, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA
Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings
Dates: constructed 1886-1888, demolished 1934
Designed by the notable Victorian architect James Cather Newsom (1857-1930), the Bryson-Bonebrake Building was built for two prominent citizens and occupied a key intersection of the early central business district. Its exterior was nothing short of amazing, displaying a riotous and eclectic amalgam of architectural features. Strong horizontal and vertical compositional elements quelled the decorative riot somewhat, but not completely.
Two highly influential figures in 1880s Los Angeles, John Bryson, Sr., (1819-1907), the 19th mayor of LA who presided over the city between 12/10/1888-02/25/1889, and Major George H. Bonebrake (1838-1898), President of the Los Angeles National Bank and the State Loan and Trust Company, commissioned John Cather Newsom to erect this 126-room bank and office building. It's cost was projected to be $224,000, a staggering sum at the time. Bonebrake was one of the richest men in the city at the time, and he could afford making such an investment. He located the main headquarters of his bank in the Bryson-Bonebrake Block.
An notice in the Los Angeles Herald of 03/28/1886 indicated that a brick mason by the name of A. McNally worked on the building: "Mr. A. McNally, one of the best contractors in the city, who has the brick work for the Bryson block, begins to lay brick to-morrow." (See "Local News Notes," Los Angeles Herald, vol. 25, no. 21, 03/28/1886, p. 1.)
This ornate Romanesque building originally had five stories with a tall basement level that provided extra room for shops on its shorter, 2nd Street facade. Streetfront shops were on grade with South Spring Street and had ample clerestories to admit as much light as possible into the backs of these commercial spaces. (The below-grade 2nd Street retail storefronts lacked clerestories.) Bonebrake's Los Angeles National Bank occupied the prime corner space on the first floor. The bank had its arched entrance just to the southwest of the main arched entryway trimmed by two nested archivolts. More or less uniform rustication of the first-floor masonry differentiated it from the four upper floors.
In the original design, each facade had two sets of bay windows projecting out from the building. The skin of the building had an intense degree of ornamentation, an irregular and asymmetrical array of colors, materials, textures and projecing and receding surfaces, meant to dazzle the eye. The upper five stories featured a remarkable variety of brickwork, quoins, and ornamental columns as well as windows of various shapes and sizes. Architect Newsom mixed trabeated windows with those topped by segmental and fully round arches. His composition even included thermal windows, absorbed from ancient Roman baths. The building had the feeling of a wedding cake, with each story delineated with discontinuous but strong horizonatal moldings. Only the corner turret and stacked window bays rose in straight lines vertically contrasting with the prevalent horizontality.
The Bryson-Bonebrake Block was one of the more important office buildings built during the 1880s building boom in Los Angeles, CA. It had six stories, with a typical Queen Anne Style variety of shapes, materials and ornamentation for which architect John Cather Newsom was famous. The first floor had walls of rusticated stone, influenced by the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival. The roof line had a notable assemblage of pyramidal and conic turrets. John Cather Newsom's own 1888 book, Artistic Buildings and Homes of Los Angeles, described the new office building: "Bryson-Bonebrake Block, commissioned by John Bryson, Sr., Los Angeles Mayor, and Major George H. Bonebrake, banker, this huge office building was Newsom's most ambitious and commercial structure. The Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1888 reports: 'At the corner of Second and Springs streets, is one of the largest and most substantial in Southern California, and is most ornamental in appearance. It is six stories and a basement in height, and will contain four stories, one bank, 126 rooms, and a lodgeroom on the sixth floor. It has 120 feet frontage on Spring street and 103 feet frontage on Second steet. The rooms are all large and well ventilated, and the halls are wide and lighted by light wells. The principal features of the building are the massive and elegantly carved stone entrance, with its beautifully grained Colton marble shafts, carved stone caps and base of Moorish design, and the court in the center of the building throwing light into the corridors and inner rooms. The steps of the entrance are of the best granite, and the entrance is tiled and has marble wainscoting. On one side is a large bulletin-board, and on the other a richly-carved staircase with marble steps... The interior of the building is finished in cedar, and the plumbing is of the best... All the offices are heated and lighted with gas, and there are electric bells from each room to the bulletin board on the first floor. The elevator runs from the basement to the sixth floor. There is a fine hose reel on each floor for use in case of fire. Its cost will be $224,000.'" Newsom published this book marketing his own work just before the city would suffer from the effects of a colossal real estate bubble in 1889.
Architect John Cather Newsom planned two additional stories to the Bryson-Bonebrake Building in 11/1902. The addition of this two stories necessitated the removal of a distinctive "candle-snuffer" roof covering the corner turret at South Spring Street and 2nd Street. It was completed by c. 1904.
The Bryson-Bonebrake Block was razed. An annex building for the Los Angeles Times later occupied the lot.
PCAD id: 2658