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Elevators & the Bradbury

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The Open Cage/Grill Elevator and The Bradbury

From "The High Window:"

"The Belfont Building was eight stories of nothing in particular that had got itself pinched off between a large green and chromium cut rate suit emporium and a three-story and basement garage that made a noise like lion cages at feeding time. The small dark narrow lobby was as dirty as a chicken yard. The building directory had a lot of vacant space on it. Only one of the names meant anything to me and I knew that one already. Opposite the directory a large sign tilted against the fake marble wall said: Space for Renting Suitable for Cigar Stand. Apply Room 316.

There were two open-grill elevators but only one seemed to be running and that not busy. An old man sat inside it slack-jawed and watery-eyed on a piece of folded burlap on top of a wooden stool. He looked as if he had been sitting there since the Civil War and had come out of that badly.

I got in with him and said eight, and he wrestled the doors shut and cranked his buggy and we dragged upwards lurching. The old man breathed hard, as if he was carrying the elevator on his back. "

From the short story "The Lady In The Lake:"

"The hop in the lobby of the Athletic Club scooted neatly into one of the old open-cage elevators they have there and was back in no time at all with a nod. He took me up to the fourth floor and showed me the reading room."

The description of the Belfont Building is often taken to mean that Chandler is writing about the Bradbury Building at Third and Broadway, about a mile North East of 9th and Olive.

However, I don't believe Chandler was writing about the Bradbury, and was probably never in the Bradbury, for the following reasons:

  1. He first worked at the Los Angeles Creamery on Towne near Olympic - close to two miles Southeast from the Bradbury, and probably never got near 3rd and Broadway.
  2. There were probably other examples of "open cage" or "open grill" elevators he came in contact with - possibly from his youth in England or studies in France and Germany, or from the WWI period. Even from his travels in the U.S.
  3. He wrote that the Los Angeles Athletic Club had such an elevator. When he worked for Dabney Oil, his office was across the street from the Athletic Club. He probably was in the club many times, and if they had such an elevator he took note of it.
  4. From 1912 through 1946, the period Chandler lived in Los Angeles, no mention of the Bradbury ever appeared in the Los Angeles Times, except for an announced remodel in 1915, with a planned postcard mailing. In four years of collecting photos and postcards, I have never come across a Bradbury postcard. It is possible that the mailing was never made, and Chandler would have no way of knowing about the building. The exterior gives no hint of what is inside, so even if he walked by, he would have no idea of the wonderful interior.
  5. However, in 1916 the elevator cage in the Tajo Building at 1st and Broadway, owned by the Bradbury Estate, fell three stories with Attorney Kemper B. Campbell, four other passengers and the operator inside. Inspectors placed the blame on a power failure. That was in the June 4, 1916 Los Angeles Times. Chandler was in Los Angeles then, but many years from becoming a writer, and, who knows if the elevator was the open cage type.
  6. His description of the Belfont elevator lobby matches that of many of the buildings in down town Los Angeles, including the Bank of Italy building where he worked.
  7. In the May 1953 Art & Architecture, Esther McCoy wrote of the Bradbury and its tenets: "Asked about their tenancy, they are apt to say, "Other buildings seem gloomy after this." McCoy ends her narrative with, "Light is an enduring material."
  8. If Chandler had gone into the Bradbury he would have written about it, but not as having a small dark narrow lobby that was dirty as a chicken yard.

On May First, 1963 the Cultural Heritage Board marked the Bradbury for preservation, three years after Chandler died.

On July 30, 1966, Bonanza IV was held at the Bradbury Building for the Maud Booth Home (a fund raiser). Obviously the literati and glitterati of Los Angeles knew of the Bradbury in the early sixties. However, from 1893 until the 1960s the Bradbury was a "working" building. I knew of it around 1949. My father had a Saturday job with a clothing factory in the building and would sometimes take me to "work." I used to run up and down the stairs and around the building - no riding the elevator even then.

When it first opened in 1897 the LA Daily Herald & many lawyers had offices in the Bradbury.

Ira Yellin bought the building in the early 1980s and remodeled it in the early 1990s.

To this day you can walk in the lobby and up to the first landing to gawk or take pictures seven days a week.

Most of the people who shop in the Sprint store on the corner of 3rd and Broadway, or at Ross Cutlery (where O. J. Simpson bought the knife that allegedly killed his wife and Ron Goldman), on either side of the Broadway lobby entrance, probably have no idea what lies within.

The Maud Booth Home (named after a founder of Volunteers Of America) fund raiser program folio, "Vast Hall Full of Light" is available at the Los Angeles Public Central Library:

14960D60022 Ref
F 775.23 M 131
Mc Coy, Esther

The Bradbury Building
304 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Downtown Properties Holdings (owner)
Goodwin Gaw (Principal DPH)

Cross Street:
3rd St.

An architectural gem since 1893.

"It's a testament to the futuristic vision of architect George Wyman that this 1893 building was chosen as a set for Blade Runner, a sci-fi film made in 1982 but set in 2019. The bones still hold up. (And the Jack Nicholson films Chinatown and Wolf also set scenes here.) The outside of the building may not be as ornate as others in LA's historic core, but inside, the multi-story open lobby capped by skylights, wrought-iron stairwells and open-cage elevators stand out to make it one of the city's most unique buildings. Looky-loos are free, but visitors not on business in one of its offices may not ride the elevators."  LA.com



Exterior of the Bradbury Building, 3rd and Broadway




  © 2007 Loren Latker


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Above, the building at 9th and Olive, with 318 W. 9th Street being the entrance to the Elevator
Lobby. Possibly the "Belfont." However, 315 W. 9th, across the street, is next to the green
Terra Cotta Columbia Building


All images below are of the Bradbury and ©2006 by Loren Latker.