The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

Click to viewThere'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.

We already toured the Bradbury Building back in 2007, as part of the closing ceremonies of the Jules Verne Festival, and you can see more of our pics from the event here.

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:

Major Appearances:

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 Building's roof.

The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

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.

The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

The Obscure:

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 underground.

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 Building."

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 vistas.

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 Bradbury:

The Most Famous Building In Science Fiction

14. The Order (Marvel Comics). Marvel actually has some offices in the Bradbury Building in real life, and its superhero team The Order is headquartered there.

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 followed.

Top image by Ann Althouse. Additional reporting and writing by Alasdair Wilkins.