The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction
There's one building in Los Angeles that screams "retro-futuristic
gothic," and it was built in 1893. The Bradbury Building featured
heavily in Blade Runner, but it's starred in tons of other stories.
Here's a list.
The story of the building's origins is, in itself, bizarre and
remarkable: George Wyman was an apprentice to his architect uncle,
with no formal degrees, but millionaire Louis Bradbury liked George's
creativity. Bradbury wanted to hire Wyman, instead of his uncle, to
design the building, but Bradbury didn't want to stab his uncle in the
back. So he asked his long-dead brother for advice, using a planchette
to contact the spirit world. "Take the Bradbury Building," the
brother's ghost advised. "It will make you famous." Wyman was also
inspired by Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, a utopian science
fiction book set in the futuristic world of 2000.
Wyman gave the building an oversized skylight, which Esther McCoy
calls "a fairy tale of mathematics." The building features lovely
bas-reliefs, ornate wooden doors, geometrically patterned staircases,
open-caged elevators (originally steam-powered!), iron grillwork and
marble floors. Writes Kevin Starr in the book Material Dreams:
In an architecture of steel and glass, marble, tile and movement,
George Wyman envisioned and presented the material dream of Southern
California as a technology flooded by sunlight.
It's appeared in tons of noir classics, but also in a jillion science
fiction stories. Here's that list:
1. Blade Runner. It's probably the most important location in the
film, followed by the 2nd Street Tunnel, Union Station and the
Ennis-Brown building. J.F. Sebastien lives there in dystopian squalor,
and you can see blimps passing above its iconic giant skylight. And
the final battle between Deckard and Roy happens on the Bradbury
2. The Outer Limits, "Demon with a Glass Hand." Most of this Harlan
Ellison penned episode, generally considered one of the series's
finest episodes, takes place within the Bradbury. Ellison originally
wanted the episode to involve a cross-country chase, but producers
nixed the idea for financial reasons. So Ellison chose the Bradbury as
a single structure that could contain the entire storyline, about a
man with a mysterious transparent computer hand, which is missing
three fingers. Here's a clip:
3. Wolf. Jack Nicholson's big werewolf movie uses the Bradbury to
double as Jack's office.
4. Quantum Leap. The building appears in the first season finale "Play
It Again, Seymour" under the assumed name of Gotham Towers.
5. Pushing Daisies. Ned and Chuck live there.
6. The Night Strangler. After the success of the first Night Stalker
movie and before the later TV show, a second cinematic installment
came out, written by Twilight Zone mastermind Richard Matheson.
Wiseacre newspaperman Carl Kolchak investigates a string of murders in
the Seattle underground, which turns out to be the work of an immortal
serial killer. The Bradbury doubles as the centerpiece of the Seattle
7. Star Trek: The Case of the Colonist's Corpse. Remember Samuel T.
Cogley, the luddite super-lawyer who gets Kirk out of murder charges
in one original Star Trek episode? He stars in his own novel, and we
discover he works out of the now four-hundred year old Bradbury
Building. That's some good upkeep. Writes author Tony Isabella:
Surrounded by a forest of skyscrapers of the newest design and
materials, the Bradbury Building stood out because it was none of
those things. Its exterior was neither metal nor transparent aluminum,
but a nondescript combination of sandstone and brick. Its five-story
height was dwarfed by the surrounding towers, which reached to the sky
as if trying to overcompensate for being next to the Bradbury. They
were, after all, just buildings; the Bradbury was history.
8. The Indestructible Man. This MST3K classic features Lon Chaney
being all indestructible in the Bradbury Building. Says actor Casey
Adams, "the Bradbury Building [was] used in the scene where Chaney
goes into it to kill one man. That was a fantastic building with an
exposed elevator and wrought iron railings and a glass ceiling… it's a
classic, classic building. And a fabulous set for us!"
9. Mission: Impossible. The 1960s spy show (which sometimes skirted
the edge of being science fictional) set some scenes there.
10. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon refers to Philip Marlowe, who
will "feel homesick for the lacework balconies of the Bradbury
11. The Man With The Golden Torc by Simon R. Green. This 2007 novel
includes a section where supernatural spy Shaman Bond, aka Eddie
Drood, goes searching for a Doktor Koenig, who has pioneered the art
of the brain-computer interface. Doktor Koenig's laboratory is in a
disused think tank in the Bradbury Building, but then a duel between
Bond and a witch brings the whole building crashing down around them.
12. The World Of Tiers by Philip Jose Farmer. Robert Wolff, an
Earthling trapped in another universe, discovers a "gate" which can
lead anywhere in space-time. Looking through it, he sees a glimpse of
the Bradbury Building, followed by a series of unfamiliar alien
13. Mister X: Condemned (Dark Horse Comics). This recent series finds
Dean Motter reviving his Mister X concept after 25 years and placing
the title character's girlfriend in Radiant City's version of the
14. The Order (Marvel Comics). Marvel actually has some offices in the
Bradbury Building in real life, and its superhero team The Order is
15. The Human Target (DC/Vertigo). Christopher Chance, the Human
Target (who gets his name by being a PI who impersonates people under
threat in order to protect them), works out of the building in Peter
Milligan's 1999 Vertigo miniseries and the ongoing series that
The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction