The building was commissioned by Lewis Bradbury (after whom it is named), a mining millionaire who had become a real estate developer in the later part of his life. His plan (in 1892) was to have a five story building constructed at Third Street and Broadway in Los Angeles, close to the Bunker Hill neighborhood.
A local architect, Sumner Hunt, was first hired to complete a design for the building but Bradbury ruled against constructing his plans which he did not view as adequately matching the grandeur of his vision.
Wyman at first refused the offer to design the building. However Wyman supposedly had a ghostly talk with his dead brother Mark Wyman (who had been dead for six years) while using a planchette board with his wife. The ghostly message that came through supposedly said "Mark Wyman / take the / Bradbury building / and you will be / successful" with the word "successful" written upside down. After the episode, Wyman took the job and is now regarded as the architect of the Bradbury Building. Wyman's grandson, the science fiction publisher Forrest J. Ackerman, owns the original of this document. Coincidentally, Ackerman is a close friend of science fiction author Ray Bradbury.
Wyman was especially influenced in the construction of the building by Edward Bellamy's book Looking Backward (published in 1887) which described a utopian society in the year 2000. In the book, the average commercial building was described as 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 ... The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior." This description greatly influenced the Bradbury Building.
A restoration and seismic retrofitting by developer Ira Yellin and project architect Brenda Levin Associates was undertaken in 1991. As part of the restoration, a storage area at the south end of the building was converted to a new rear entrance portico, connecting the building more directly to Biddy Mason Park and the adjacent Broadway Spring Center parking garage. The building's lighting system was also redesigned, bringing in alabaster wall sconces from Spain.
The building itself features an Italian Renaissance-style exterior facade of brown brick, sandstone and panels of terra cotta details, in the "commercial Romanesque" that was the current idiom in East Coast American cities. But the magnificence of the building is the interior that you reach through the entrance with its low ceiling and minimal light that seems to hug your senses until you are welcomed with the flood of natural light and expanse within great center court.
Robert Forster, star of the TV series Banyon that used the building for his office, described it as "one of the great interiors of L.A. Outside it doesn't look like much, but when you walk inside, suddenly you're back a hundred and twenty years.
The five-story central court features glazed brick, ornamental cast iron, tiling, rich marble, and polished wood, capped by a skylight that allows the court to be flooded with natural rather than artificial light creating ever changing shadows and accents during the day. The elevators in the building are also famous for their being cage elevators surrounded by wrought-iron grillwork rather than masonry. They go up to the fifth floor.
The entire main building features geometric patterned staircases at all ends. The building is known for its large use of ornately designed wrought-iron railings which are supposed to give the illusion of hanging vegetation and are found throughout the building. This wrought-iron was executed in France and displayed at the Chicago World's Fair before being installed in the building. Freestanding mail-chutes are also made out of ironwork.
The initial estimate for building the building was $175,000. When it was completed it had cost over $500,000, a ridiculously large amount for those times.
In a sad twist of fate, Lewis Bradbury died months before the building opened in 1893 although it stands as a testament to his and George Wyman's vision. With all its international fame it most surely lives up to his dream. It is Wyman's most acclaimed building.
Today the building serves as headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department's Internal Affairs division and other government agencies. Several of the offices are rented out to private concerns including Red Line Tours. The retail spaces on the first floor currently house Ross Cutlery, a Subway sandwich restaurant, a Sprint cell phone store, and a real estate sales office for loft conversions in other nearby historic buildings.
The building was prominently used in the film Blade Runner. It has also been featured in the 1944 Billy Wilder film classic Double Indemnity, the 1950 film noir classic D.O.A., the film Wolf starring Jack Nicholson, the "Demon with a Glass Hand" episode of the TV series The Outer Limits, the TV series Banyon, the Charles Bronson movie Murphy's Law, the Michael Douglas and Demi Moore vehicle Disclosure, music videos from the 1980s by Heart, Janet Jackson and Genesis, and a Pontiac Pursuit commercial. The Bradbury has recently been seen in the show Pushing Daisies, which debuted in fall 2007. The building also serves as the headquarters for the Marvel Comics team The Order.
The building is also seen with the name "Gotham Towers" in the TV series Quantum Leap in the last episode of the first season, "Play it again, Seymour."
The building was featured in the photography on the Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 box.
The building is a popular tourist attraction. Visitors are welcome daily and greeted by a government worker who provides historical facts and information about the building. Visitors are allowed up to the first landing but not past it. Brochures and tours are also available. It is close to three other downtown Los Angeles Landmarks: the Grand Central Market and the Million Dollar Theater (across the street) and Angels Flight (two blocks away). The building is accessible from the Los Angeles MTA Red Line via the Civic Center exit, which is three blocks away.