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New Shine for an Old Gem : Renovated Bradbury Building is a credit to Los Angeles architecture

October 05, 1991

The Bradbury Building, at 3rd Street and Broadway, has been called one of the most magnificent relics of 19th-Century commercial architecture in the world. When it was completed in 1894, for a total cost of $500,000, it contained Italian marble, Mexican floor tiles, delicate water-powered bird-cage elevators from Chicago, 288 radiators, 50 fireplaces, 215 wash basins and the largest plate-glass windows in Los Angeles.

Yet this building, so ambitious and ornate for its time, was designed by an inexperienced $5-a-week architectural draftsman. George H. Wyman had no academic architectural credentials. Years later his friends and relatives revealed that Wyman's decision to take on the project was influenced by a Ouija board: A dangling pencil was said to have written, "Take the Bradbury Building--it will make you famous." That perhaps apocryphal prophecy has come true.

The Bradbury Building, named for gold miner Lewis Bradbury, who financed the project, is one of only four office buildings in the city with National Landmark status. When it opened, the law firm of John Bicknell and Walter Trask, founding partners of what eventually became Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, were among the first tenants. But between then and now, age took its toll.

Reopened recently after a $7-million renovation, the Bradbury Building is among the first of several structures downtown to undergo restoration. In a city where landmark status has been sought for carwashes and coffee shops, Los Angeles has reclaimed a true architectural gem in the Bradbury Building.

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