LA’s Bradbury: The Place You Know but Cannot Name

We have an old school Ouija board to thank for the Bradbury Building.

A century ago an architectural assistant with no formal training was hired to design the building on the corner of Broadway and Third Street in downtown Los Angeles.  The initial and quite famous architect hired had been promptly fired and George Wyman, the budding assistant, was offered the position in his place.

Wyman first declined the offer but after he and his wife played with a planchette board he changed his mind.  Basically a wooden paddle on wheels with a pencil fastened to it, planchette boards allow the holder to write out messages dictated by spirits, similar to how ouija boards guide the hands of those communing with the dead.  Believing he had spoken with his dead brother, the message Mark Wyman / take the / Bradbury building / and you will be / successful, was written out, with successful coming out upside down. OooOOoooo spooky.

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A fitting beginning for the building as the subsequent design was inspired by Edward Bellamy’s 1887 sci-fi novel Looking Backward, and has since been highly used in popular culture.  Bradbury’s walls have seen Janet Jackson dance away in the videos for her album Rhythm Nation, Joseph Gordon Levitt interview in 500 Days of Summer, and Marvel Comics, who have offices in the building, publish comics involving protagonists who themselves work in the Bradbury (meta geeky).  Most famously though, it’s been used as the noirish setting for the final showdown in Blade Runner (RIP Priss).

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On the National Register of Historic Places, the Bradbury is still a working office building in downtown LA.  When visiting during the day and the sun floods in from the skylight there’s not much mystery to it, but the space itself is absorbing.  Staircases upon staircases weave around you till you feel like you’re lost in an Escher sketch and light is captured in corners such that you think shadows are painted on the walls.  Gears on the elevators are so pronounced you imagine they’re worked by a man floors below hand cranking the wheels around and around, sweat on his brow and a fire roaring behind him.

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Noiry, futuristic, foreboding (it was featured in Double Indemnity and Chinatown too), you do feel swept up into a different genre as you’re here.  There’s just bound to be a man with a pistol around the corner, or a dame in silk stockings waiting on the floor above.  You just want to dim the lights, do some skulking, and wait to be transported…then just as you’re bewitched and caught up in the spell you remember the Grand Central Market is just across the street and while grabbing an Egg Slut sandwich you’re brought back to reality.

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