Paul Williams (architect)

Paul Williams (architect)

Paul Revere Williams (February 18, 1894 – January 23, 1980) was an American architect. He based his practice largely in Los Angeles, and the Southern California area.

Orphaned at the age of four, he was the only African American student in his elementary school. He studied at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design and at the Los Angeles branch of the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design Atelier, subsequently working as a landscape architect. He went on to attend the University of Southern California, School of Engineering designing several residential buildings while still a student there. Williams became a certified architect in 1921, and the first certified African American architect west of the Mississippi.

On June 27, 1917 he married Della Mae Givens at the First AME Church in Los Angeles. They had three children, Paul Revere Williams, Jr. (born and died June 30, 1925, buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Los Angeles); Marilyn Frances Williams (born December 25, 1926); and Norma Lucille Williams (born September 18, 1928).

Williams won an architectural competition at age 25 and three years later opened his own office. Known as an outstanding draftsman, he perfected the skill of rendering drawings "upside down." This skill was developed so that his clients (who may have been uncomfortable sitting next to a "Black" architect) would see the drawings rendered right side up across the table from him. Fighting to gain attention, he served on the first Los Angeles City Planning Commission in 1920. Williams was the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1939, he won the AIA Award of Merit for his design of the MCA Building in Los Angeles (now headquarters of the Paradigm Talent Agency).

During World War II, Williams worked for the Navy Department as an architect. Following the war he published his first book, "The Small Home of Tomorrow" (1945), with a successor volume "New Homes for Today" the following year. In 1957 became the first African American to be voted an AIA Fellow.

In 1951, he won the Omega Psi Phi Man of the Year award and in 1953 Williams received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP for his outstanding contributions as an architect and member of the African American community. Williams also received honorary doctorates from Howard University (doctor of architecture), Lincoln University (doctor of science), and the Tuskegee Institute (doctor of fine arts). In 2004, USC honored him by listing him among its distinguished alumni, in the television commercial for the school shown during its football games.

Williams famously remarked upon the bitter irony of the fact that most of the homes he designed, and whose construction he oversaw, were on parcels whose deeds included segregation covenants barring blacks from purchasing them.


Williams designed more than 2,000 private homes, most of which were in the Hollywood Hills and the Mid-Wilshire portion of Los Angeles (including his own home in the Mid-City, Los Angeles, California|Mid-City district). He also designed at least one home in the San Rafael district in the Pasadena Arroyo. His most famous homes were for Hollywood celebrities, and he was well regarded for his mastery of various architectural styles. Modern interpretations of Tudor-revival, French Chateau, Regency and Mediterranean were all within his vernacular. One notable home he designed was later used for exterior scenes of the Colby mansion on television's "The Colbys" (1060 Brooklawn Dr. Bel Air, Los Angeles, California|Bel Air) This is currently the home of Barron Hilton. His client list included Frank Sinatra (the notorious pushbutton house), Lon Chaney, Sr., Lucille Ball, Tyrone Power (two houses), Barbara Stanwyck, Bert Lahr, William S. Paley, Charles Cottrell, Will Hays, Zasu Pitts and Danny Thomas. In contrast to these splendid mansions, Williams co-designed the first federally funded public housing projects in the post-war period (Langton Terrace, Washington, D.C.) and later the Pueblo del Rio project in southeast Los Angeles.

Noted public buildings that Williams designed or contributed to (in Los Angeles, unless otherwise noted) include:

* Shrine Auditorium (Williams helped prepare construction drawings as a young architect)
* Hollywood YMCA
* Los Angeles County Courthouse
* Los Angeles County Hall of Administration
* United Nations Building (Paris), Paris, France
* Saks Fifth Avenue, Beverly Hills, California
* Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills, California
* the concrete paraboloid La Concha Motel in Las Vegas (disassembled and moved to the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada for use as the museum lobby 2006)
* LAX theme building, 1960s Williams designed this futuristic landmark with architects Pereira & Luckman.

Williams retired his practice in 1973. He died at age 85. He is interred in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood.


"If I allow the fact that I am a Negro to checkmate my will to do, now, I will inevitably form the habit of being defeated."

"Planning is thinking beforehand how something is to be made or done, and mixing imagination with the product – which in a broad sense makes all of us planners. The only difference is that some people get a license to get paid for thinking and the rest of us just contribute our good thoughts to our fellow man."


* Hudson, Karen E. "Paul R. Williams, Architect: A Legacy of Style". New York: Rizzoli, 1993.(the author is Williams' granddaughter and curator of his estate)

Architecture; Leavey NA737.W527H84 1993

* Hudson, Karen E., "The Will and the Way: Paul R. Williams, Architect", Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., NY 1994

* Yenser, Thomas (editor), "Who's Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of African Descent in America", Who's Who in Colored America, Brooklyn, New York, 1930-1931-1932 (Third Edition)

* Sennot, Stephen (author), Samudio, Jeffrey B. (contributing editor), "Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture: Paul Revere Williams", Routledge, Taylor & Francis Publishhers, January, 2004, 1,500 word biography of life and professional work

External links

* [ Via Magazine profile: "Paul Willams, an Architect"]
* [ SoCal History biography of Williams]
* [ USC Trojan biographical page]
* [ about African American Architects]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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