During a pivotal scene in The Artist (2011), fading silent film star George Valentin and rising ingénue Peppy Miller pass each other on a staircase at the Kinograph Studios where they work, their career trajectories mirrored by their relative positions on the stairs. Peppy stops to look back down on George, and blows him a kiss, which George catches and puts in his pocket for safekeeping.
Sharp-eyed movie fans will recognize the setting for this scene as the interior of the Bradbury Building, at 304 S. Broadway in Los Angeles, across the street from the historic Million Dollar Theater. Perhaps best remembered for its appearance during the Ridley Scott 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, the Bradbury Building has had starring roles in such noir classics as D.O.A (1950), and was featured recently in (500) Days of Summer (2009). The Bradbury Building was built in 1893 by mining millionaire Lewis Bradbury, and remains the oldest commercial building in Los Angeles. Its plain façade belies its internal five-story glass-roofed atrium, filled with intricate railings and bird-cage elevators.
Although it doesn’t appear in his movie, Harold Lloyd filmed a concluding scene to his epic thrill comedy masterpiece, Safety Last! (below), just across the way from the Bradbury Building.
Harold Lloyd filmed a brief scene with Mildred Davis, his future wife, for the conclusion to Safety Last! (1923) atop the Washington Building at 3rd and Spring, across from the Bradbury Building at 3rd and Broadway. Lloyd staged his climb up a thirteen story building in Safety Last! by constructing sets atop three increasingly taller buildings. As addressed in my prior post, the famous scene where Harold hangs from the hands of a clock was filmed atop 908 S. Broadway, near the Orpheum Theater where the opening scenes for The Artist were filmed. As I explain in my book Silent Visions, the sequence in Safety Last! where Harold safely reunites with his girlfriend after climbing the skyscraper was filmed atop three different buildings, including the Washington Building shown here. The Bradbury Building stands directly behind Harold and Mildred in the shot above, but at five stories tall, the building is too short to appear in view.
Although they could not show it during The Artist, another connection between the Bradbury Building and the silent film era is this charming statue of Charlie Chaplin that sits today on a bench within the building lobby.
Despite its frequent use as a movie location, Mr. Bradbury’s office building on Broadway was not his only connection to film history. The elaborate Bradbury mansion, built in 1887 atop Court Hill overlooking the former County Court House (1891-1935), and at the time the city’s finest home, would later be used as one of Los Angeles’ earliest movie studios.
It was here that future silent film star Harold Lloyd, and producer Hal Roach (best known for his Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang comedies), first joined forces in 1915 to create their earliest films. The pair, along with Lloyd co-stars Bebe Daniels and Snub Pollard, created more than one hundred films during their time working together at the mansion. Lloyd and Roach remained at the mansion until 1920, when Roach built new facilities out in Culver City.
Charlie Chaplin also filmed at the Bradbury Mansion for a few months in 1915 while fulfilling his Essanay Studios contract, just a year after he began his meteoric career at the Keystone Studio. At left, Chaplin appears on the Bradbury mansion front steps during a sequence from his Essanay comedy Work (1915).
The Bradbury Mansion dominated Court Hill, a once swanky neighborhood perched on a small hill overlooking the nascent Los Angeles civic center, standing between Fort Moore Hill to the east, and Bunker Hill to the west. Originally Court Hill had no tunnel, but a single bore was completed in 1909 to accommodate trolley traffic from Hollywood, and a second bore for automobiles was completed a few years later.
The Bradbury Mansion stood near the unique twin-bore Hill Street Tunnel running beneath Court Hill. It was from the western balustrade on Court Street, overlooking the Hill Street Tunnel, that Harold Lloyd filmed his earliest stunt comedies. Constructing a movie set near the balustrade, and filming it against the city streets far below, created the illusion that the set was high above the ground. Many comedians filmed here during the silent-era to exploit this effect. The example above is from Harold Lloyd’s second “thrill” comedy High and Dizzy (1919). Buster Keaton built a set similar to one shown above for a stunt from his first feature comedy Three Ages (1923), and Charlie Chaplin filmed a brief scene from Shoulder Arms (1918) beside the balustrade as well.
The Bradbury Mansion was also served by the second of Los Angeles’s two funicular railways. While many Los Angelenos are familiar with Angels Flight, the original funicular railway built beside the Third Street Tunnel in 1901 to serve Bunker Hill, and recently returned to service following decades in storage, a second railway named Court Flight ran from Broadway to the top of Court Hill for nearly 40 years, until it was abandoned in 1943. For many years the judges working at the Court House on Broadway would take their lunch breaks by crossing the street to Court Flight, and riding uphill to a restaurant operating out of the Bradbury Mansion. After the Bradbury Mansion was demolished in 1929, its former site was used as a hilltop parking lot for city government employees. The Hill Street Tunnel was demolished in 1955, and Court Hill itself was graded flat and hauled away one truckload at a time, to make way for more state and city government buildings. Today the site of the former Bradbury Mansion along Hill Street is several stories in the air above the current sidewalk.
The Artist (C) La Petite Reine, The Weinstein Company. Work (1915), (c) 1999 Film Preservation Associates.
HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc.
The Bradbury Building