Saturday, December 10, 2011

LA Noir: The Bryson

"He drove down to Wilshire and we turned east again.  Twenty-five minutes brought us to the Bryson Tower, a white stucco palace with fretted lanterns in the forecourt and tall date palms."
                                              ---The Lady in the Lake (1943) by Raymond Chandler

A white stucco tower indeed, visited in the excerpt above by detective Philip Marlowe.  Does any other building gleam quite so brightly as the Bryson in the Los Angeles sun? 

The Bryson, 2701 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, built in 1913, architects Frederick Noonan and Charles H. Kyson.  The building is closely tied to LA's film noir persona through Raymond Chandler's work, books including Double Indemnity, and such movies as The Grifters.  When developer Hugh W. Bryson built The Bryson, Wilshire was a boulevard of grand mansions.  Bryson took down four of them to build what was originally planned as a six story building, but he soon decided to make it ten stories.  He agreed to foster Wilshire's image as a wide promenade by setting the building back one hundred feet from the street's center line.

"The entrance was in an L, up marble steps, through a Moorish arch, and over a lobby that was too big and a carpet that was too blue."  So says Chandler.  The Bryson has no Moorish arch, but there are marble steps, and two pair of lions atop columned towers that flank the entrance and announce the building's name on cast-concrete shields.

Are these lampposts the "fretted lanterns in the foreground" in Chandler's narrative?

A gate prevents visitors like me from entering the building, but I managed to catch a view to the front door which is located up those marble steps mentioned earlier.

There's another entrance on the Rampart Street side of the building.  There are no lions, fretted lanterns, or columns as in the front entrance, but there is a grand canopy extending toward the street. 

But once again, no success in gaining entry...just a peek thorough the glass door down a desolate tiled hallway to the distant lobby.

The Bryson is built in the Beaux Arts style, with some of the most elaborate detailing at the top of the building, befitting the luxury high-rise residence developer Bryson wanted to create.  Some questioned whether Los Angeles was ready in 1913 for what Bryson described as "an apartment house in a class by itself on this coast and finer than any other west of New York City."  LA was ready; the building was an immediate success.

Luxury was the keyword at the Bryson.  Each of the 98 apartments featured mahogany woodwork, cedar drawers, hide-away beds, kitchen and bath.  The apartments were furnished with china and silver service for six, and even champagne glasses and finger bowls.

Residents could receive guests in a top floor ballroom and loggia with views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Catalina Island.  A reviewer of the time said the Bryson offered "the luxuries of a mansion without the inconveniences."  The success of the Bryson spelled the end of Wilshire Boulevard's dominance by mansions of the rich and famous, as other high-rise hotels and apartment houses rose.

The Bryson fell into disrepair over the years and finally lost its cachet.  At one time, actor Fred MacMurry owned it, and petitioned for lower assessments because the building was not profitable.  The LA Times reported in 1977 that the tenth floor had been stripped and was used for storage.  The Bryson underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 1999 and is now subsidized housing.

Wikipedia quotes a 2007 article about Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, calling The Bryson "with its enduring rooftop sign, a symbol of a cityscape that is rapidly disappearing, the city as it looked to Philip Marlowe heading to the Bryson Apartment Hotel for another rendezvous."

The Bryson is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission designated it a Historic Cultural Monument in 1998.


  1. why aren't there any pictures from the inside??

  2. Love your photos! I lived in the Bryson for 2 months back in late 1965, when I first moved to LA. I still loved driving by.......I think they filmed "The Grifters" in the apartment in which I lived!

  3. Thanks for the great post. Charlie Chaplin filmed a movie here over 100 years ago, as shown in my Silent Locations blog.

  4. it was a great home for art school students at otis art institute, which was at that time a block away, in the late 70s, early 80s. we used to sneak into the rooftop ballroom an dream at the view...

  5. Cool shots. My son's name is Bryson, any way you would share a high resolution picture of the Bryson sign on the roof? Would be great printed and framed in his room!

  6. Cool shots. My son's name is Bryson, any way you would share a high resolution picture of the Bryson sign on the roof? Would be great printed and framed in his room!

  7. I can get photos from the inside