AKA: Bradbury Block, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Downtown Properties Holdings, LLC (firm); Hunt, Sumner P., Architect (firm); Shamrock Holdings of California, Incorporated (firm); Wyman, George Herbert, Architect (firm); Yellin Properties, LLC (firm); Sumner P. Hunt (architect); George Herbert Wyman (architect); Adele M. Yellin (real estate developer); Ira Edward Yellin (developer)

Dates: constructed 1891-1893

5 stories, total floor area: 61,000 sq. ft.

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304 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013-1224

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Located at South Broadway and West 3rd Street;

Overview

Apparently inspired by the futuristic novel, Looking Backward: From 2000 to 1887, the Bradbury Building's main claim to fame has been its extraordinary atrium. Architect George Herbert Wyman's idea for this open, skylit space was credited to a passage in the book's 10th chapter describing a futuristic building: "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 centre 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." The Los Angeles Public Library received the book in 08/1888, (See "New Books," Los Angeles Times, 08/04/1888, p. 3), but it took another 10 months for word-of-mouth to spread throughout the city. By 06-07/1889, it caused something of a sensation in Los Angeles, judging from the cluster of articles on it in the Los Angeles Times. At least eleven Los Angeles Times articles were published in 06-07/1889 alone. A group called the "National Club" organized in 1889, with about 50 adherents. The Los Angeles Times said of an early National Club meeting: "Los Angeles is becoming stirred up over questions vitalized by Edward Bellamy in his book, 'Looking Backward.' Yesterday afternoom a number of ladies and gentlemen who would be characterized dreamers by the Gradgrinds of the city, and seers by their friends, met in upper Turnverein Hall on Spring Street. The meeting was the direct result of the book, and those who meet have named themselves the National Club. Assuming as true that the rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer, the club proposes to agitate on the line marked out by Edward Bellamy, for an amelioration of the condition of the masses." (See "The Utopians," Los Angeles Times, 06/24/1889, p. 3.) The design phase for the building occurred just as the enthusiasm for Bellamy's book had begun to build in Los Angeles.

Building History

Los Angeles architect Sumner P. Hunt (1865-1938) began a five-story design for the mining magnate, Lewis Leonard Bradbury (1823-1892), in 1891; Bradbury wanted an office building that he could walk to from his house on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles; Hunt had previously designed a warehouse for Bradbury in Mazatlan, Mexico, and had completed plans for the new Downtown Los Angeles office building by March 1893 at the latest; Bradbury died in July 1892, and there were legal disputes over his estate; in this contentious context, it is possible that the Bradbury Estate may have wanted to finish the Bradbury Building as inexpensively as possible; a New York Times reporter stated in 1969 that Bradbury (and his estate) intended originally to spend $100,000 for 120 x 185-foot lot and $175,000, but ended the construction process shelling out a total of $500,000.

In 1892 or 1893, George Herbert Wyman (1860-1939), a draftsman in Hunt's office, entered the picture, as a project supervisor, taking control from Hunt. According to Cecilia Rasmussen writing in the Los Angeles Times, modern research on the history of the Bradbury Block derived from a story done by the noted architectural critic and historian, Esther McCoy (1904-1989), in Arts and Architecture magazine in 1953. Rasmussen stated: "Esther McCoy interviewed Wyman's two daughters, Louise Hammell and Carroll Wyman. McCoy's story...reports that Wyman's daughters told her that Bradbury found Hunt's design uninspiring and promptly offered the job of redesigning the building to their father. They told McCoy that their father incorporated ideas for his design from Edward Bellamy's 1887 novel, 'Looking Backward,' which described a utopian civilization of the year 2000. Wyman, the daughters told McCoy, originally turned down the offer, judging acceptance as unethical. But that weekend, while using a Ouija board with his wife, he received a message from his 8-year-old dead brother Mark: 'Take the Bradbury assignment. It will make you successful.'" Wyman's purported reliance on a Ouija board seems far-fetched, but many in the late 19th century had a deep interest in spiritualism and the occult. In any event, he oversaw the construction from c. 1892-1894; the Bradbury Building opened on 01/01/1894; many movies have chosen the building for filming, including, "D.O.A." (1950), Roman Polanski's classic "Chinatown" (1974), "Blade Runner," (1982), "Wolf," (1994), and "Pay It Forward," (2000); the Bradbury Building housed Ross Cutlery, a store that sold O.J. Simpson a 15-inch knife, information that became public during his 1995 trial for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Lawyer, developer and preservationist, Ira Yellin (1940-2002), began refurbishing and seismically upgrading the Bradbury Building during 1989-1991, utilizing the talents of the architect, Brenda A. Levin (born 1946 in Teaneck, NJ). Yellin spent $5.6 million to purchase the Bradbury Block in 1989, and added another $6 million on restoration and $2.4 million on seismic upgrading. A formal re-dedication occurred on 09/24/1991. (See Robert Reinhold, "New Life for a Neglected Jewel in Los Angeles," New York Times, 09/25/1991, p. C15.) A subsequent renovation in 1998 cost $2.4 million.

In 07/2003, the Bradbury Building sold by Bradbury Associates, a firm composed of Ira and Adele Yellin's Yellin Properties, LLC, and Shamrock Holdings of California, Incorporated, an investment company owned by the Roy E. Disney Family, to Downtown Properties Holdings, the U.S. affiliate of the Hong Kong investment firm, Gaw Capital Partners. In 2003, Downtown Properties Holdings also owned 818 West 7th Street, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the 1 Bunker Hill Building. (See Business Wire.com, "Historic Bradbury Building Sold," published 07/29/2003, accessed 05/23/2019.)

Building Notes

One of downtown Los Angeles, CA's most celebrated buildings, the five-story Bradbury Block was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and is the only building in Los Angeles to receive National Historic Landmark status; the Bradbury Block was named the sixth Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Architect Michael Bednar said of the Bradbury Building's 47-foot-wide by 119-foot-long atrium: "The relatively small atrium...is stepped in section--being wider at the top to allow direct sunlight to the surrounding galleries. The roof is a clear-glazed, hip-shaped skiylight with windows at its perimeter that provide natural ventilation via door transoms for the atrium and offices. The design concept of this atrium is to consolidate and make visible all circulation--from building entry to office door. The two elaborate open stairs at either end of the focal space make vertical movement a gracious experience. These stairs lead to the continuous galleries, which can be likened in character to interior streets. In the center are two open-cage, counter-weighted traction elevators, in which all the working elements are exposed. The elevators provide a fascinating mechanical animation of people moving throughout the space. Indeed, circulation is celebrated and is made an intrinsic part of this atrium's captivating architectural character." (See Michael J. Bednar, Interior Pedestrian Places, [New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1989], p. 118.) Largely because of this atrium, the Bradbury Building has had, for much of its lifetime, a high office occupancy rate. (In 1969, the building contained 40 offices.) In 1966, the atrium was rented for society functions, the first a political fund-raiser and, months later, a L.A. Cultural Heritage Board charitable dinner/dance. These events helped to reintroduce the building to the city's wealthy taste-makers. Soon thereafter, the local American Institute of Architects Chapter moved its offices into the Bradbury in 07/1969. In the 1970s, after its national historic designations, the building became an increasingly important tourist destination in the city's downtown.

Alterations

The Western Management Corporation bought the Bradbury Block in 1943 for $143,000.

Twenty-six years later, building owners allocated $100,000 to install a new HVAC system, to restore the building's appearance, and to fix the mechanism of one of the atrium's long-dead elevators. (See Gladwin Hill, "Saving a Los Angeles Antiquity," New York Times, 05/18/1969, p. XX32.) The Architectural Forum stated in its 03/1969 issue: "The Southern California Chapter of the AIA will be the principal new tenant of the Bradbury building in Los Angeles by midsummer, when renovation, to begin immediately, will have restored it to mint condition, circa 1893. The building has never fallen below 90 per cent occupancy, but it is hoped that complete restoration will revive its prestige as well. Official landmark status derives principally from its great interior court. The court is a circulation core, with marble staircases and two open elevators to galleries at five levels. Railing and elevator cages are faced with delicate ornamental grillwork in wrought iron. All 50 of the building's fireplaces will be restored and air conditioning installed." (See "Western Revival," Architectural Forum, vol. 130, no. 2, 03/1969, p. 28.)

In 1981, the City of Los Angeles pressured the Bradbury Building's owner to enclose its atrium staircases for fire prevention reasons. To get around the enclosure plan, the building manager proposed installing new smoke detectors and 24-hour guards to protect occupants. (See "Historic Buildings: Keeping Them Safe," New York Times, 07/30/1981, p. C9) The stairways remained unenclosed.

As noted above the lawyer and historic preservationist Ira Yellin hired Brenda C. Levin to rehabilitate the Bradbury Building after he purchased it in 1969.

Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument (1962-09-21): 6

National Register of Historic Places (Listed 1971-07-14): 71000144 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 918


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