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Paul R. Williams

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Paul R. Williams
Paul R. Williams in 1917
Paul Revere Williams

(1894-02-18)February 18, 1894
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedJanuary 23, 1980(1980-01-23) (aged 85)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
Buildings1926 28th Street YMCA, Los Angeles
1935 Rene Faron Residence
1938 First Church of Christ, Scientist (Reno, Nevada)
1939 Saks Fifth Avenue, Beverly Hills
1940 Pueblo del Rio Housing Development (joint venture)
1948 Golden State Mutual Life Los Angeles
1949 and 1963 Perino's Restaurant (alterations of existing buildings)
1951 Williams Residence
1953 Imperial Courts Housing Development, Los Angeles
1958 Los Angeles Superior Court
1961 LAX Theme Building (joint venture)
1961 La Concha Motel
1962 St. Jude Hospital, Memphis
1968 First AME Church, Los Angeles
1964 Beverly Sunset Medical Center Los Angeles
ProjectsWoodrow Wilson Senior High School

Paul Revere Williams, FAIA (February 18, 1894 – January 23, 1980) was an American architect based in Los Angeles, California. Most of the buildings he designed were in Southern California and included the homes of numerous celebrities, such as Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lon Chaney, Barbara Stanwyck, and Charles Correll. He also designed many commercial, institutional and civic buildings.[1][2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Williams came from a family of middle class Memphis residents: Chester Stanley and Lila Wright Williams. They migrated to Los Angeles in 1893 with their son, Chester, to start a fruit business, but were not successful.

Paul was born in Los Angeles on February 18, 1894. His father died in 1896 from tuberculosis and his mother two years later from the same illness, leaving the boys in foster care. He was eventually adopted by C.I. Clarkson and his wife. Williams was the only African-American student in his elementary school.[4]

He studied at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design[citation needed] and at the Los Angeles branch of the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design Atelier, subsequently working as a landscape architect with Wilbur Cook, Jr. He studied architectural engineering from 1916 to 1919 at the University of Southern California, where he earned his degree,[5][6] designing several residential buildings while a student there.[7] Williams became a certified architect in California in 1921[8] and the first certified African-American architect west of the Mississippi.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Williams married Della Mae Givens[10] on June 27, 1917,[11] at the First AME Church in Los Angeles.[12] 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 Harvey[13] (born September 18, 1928).


Poster from Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. News Bureau, 1943

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 sketching "upside down." This skill was developed because in the 1920s many of his white clients felt uncomfortable sitting directly next to a Black man. He learned to sketch upside down so that he could sit across the desk from his clients who would see his sketches right-side-up.[3]

Struggling to gain attention, he served on the first Los Angeles City Planning Commission in 1920.[5]

From 1921 through 1924, Williams worked for Los Angeles architect John C. Austin, eventually becoming chief draftsman, before establishing his own office.

In 1923, Williams became the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).[1][3]

In 1939, he won the AIA Award of Merit for his design of the MCA Building in Beverly Hills (now headquarters of the Paradigm Talent Agency).

At one point in his career Williams became interested in prefabricated structures. He worked together with Wallace Neff to design experimental Airform structures which were small homes that only took a few days to construct using simple materials.[5]

A. Quincy Jones (1913–79) was an architect who is claimed to have hired Williams and later collaborated with him on projects in Palm Springs, including the Palm Springs Tennis Club (1947) and the Town & Country (1948) and Romanoff's on the Rocks (1948) restaurants.[14]

Lockheed and Guerdon Industries recruited Williams to design a concept for a car-alternative travel system in Las Vegas. He developed the idea of a monorail-like system called the Skylift Magi-Cab that would bring people to and from McCarran Airport and the city center.[5]

During World War II, Williams worked for the Navy Department as an architect.

During his career Williams designed over 2,000 buildings.[5]

Awards, recognition and honors[edit]

During his lifetime[edit]

In 1948, the anthology radio drama Destination Freedom, by Richard Durham, recapped his earlier life.[15]

In 1951, Williams won the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Man of the Year award and in 1953 he 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 Lincoln University of Missouri (doctor of science, 1941), Howard University (doctor of architecture, 1952), and the Tuskegee Institute (doctor of fine arts, 1956).

In 1956, he won an award for service, from Wisdom magazine, for "contributions to knowledge and distinguished service to mankind."

In 1957, he became the first Black member to be inducted into the AIA's College of Fellows. An April 2, 1957 letter from the Executive Secretary of AIA, offered Williams the honor of Fellowship and membership in the College of Fellows "for your notable contribution in Public Service."

Posthumous honors[edit]

USC listed him among its distinguished alumni in the television commercial for the school shown during its football games in 2004.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) gave him its gold medal in 2017, 37 years after Williams's death.[3]

Our profession desperately needs more architects like Paul Williams. His pioneering career has encouraged others to cross a chasm of historic biases. I can't think of another architect whose work embodies the spirit of the Gold Medal better. His recognition demonstrates a significant shift in the equity for the profession and the institute.

— William J. Bates, FAIA, in his support of William's nomination for the AIA Gold Medal., Architectural Digest[16]


Book: The Small Home of Tomorrow (1945), with a successor volume New Homes for Today (1946).[17]

Essay: "I Am a Negro," American Magazine (1937).[5] Reprinted in Ebony Magazine (1986) [18] The following is a quote from that essay:

I came to realize that I was being condemned, not by a lack of ability, but by my color. I passed through successive stages of bewilderment, inarticulate protest, resentment, and, finally, reconciliation to the status of my race. Eventually, however, as I grew older and thought more clearly, I found in my condition an incentive to personal accomplishment, an inspiring challenge. Without having the wish to "show them," I developed a fierce desire to "show myself." I wanted to vindicate every ability I had. I wanted to acquire new abilities. I wanted to prove that I, as an individual, deserved a place in the world.


Private homes[edit]

Lon Chaney Cabin designed by Williams — Inyo National Forest

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 Lafayette Square), part of historic West Adams, Los Angeles.[17] He also designed at least one home in the San Rafael district along with many others in Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge. The Linda Vista Area of Pasadena has many Spanish Colonial and French Country homes of his design including many commissioned by business magnates (Chrysler Corporation) and actors.

His most famous homes were for celebrities, and he was well regarded for his mastery of various architectural styles.[3] Modern interpretations of Tudor-revival, French Chateau, Regency, French Country, and Mediterranean architecture were all within his vernacular.[17] One notable home, the Jay Paley House (1935), which he designed for Jay Paley in Holmby Hills,[19] and later the residence of Barron Hilton, was used as the 'Colby mansion' in exterior scenes for The Colbys television series. Williams's client list included Frank Sinatra (the notorious pushbutton house), Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Lon Chaney, Sr., Lucille Ball, Julie London, Tyrone Power (two houses), Barbara Stanwyck, Bert Lahr, Charles Correll, Will Hays, Zasu Pitts, and Danny Thomas.

In contrast to these splendid mansions, Williams co-designed with Hilyard Robinson the first federally funded public housing projects of the post-war period (Langston Terrace in Washington, D.C.) and later the Pueblo del Rio project in southeast Los Angeles.

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 Black people from purchasing them.[3]

A number of his works are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[20]


Victor Rossetti House, a Spanish Revival style estate built in 1928.

(In Los Angeles, unless otherwise noted)

He also designed the Al Jolson tomb in Hillside Memorial Park, to where Jolson's body was moved in 1951. The tomb and fountain are prominently visible from the adjacent San Diego Freeway. It is perhaps a fitting tribute to both Williams and Jolson that he was chosen to design Jolson's resting place since Jolson had a long history of supporting African-American entertainers, in a time when that was controversial.[citation needed]

Professional records[edit]

In 1955, Williams was hired to transform a W.W.Woolworth store at the corner of Broadway and 45th in Los Angeles into the Broadway Federal Savings and Loan. When the bank opened, Williams safeguarded much of his business papers in the bank. During the fires that consumed the area after the Rodney King trial in 1992, the Broadway Bank burned and it was feared that much of Williams' archives had been lost.[35] Williams family had carefully curated the documents and Williams' granddaughter, Karen Elyse Hudson, agreed to the acquisition of the archive by the Getty Research Institute and the USC School of Architecture. In June 2020, Milton S. F. Curry of USC announced the contents of the archive: about 35,000 architectural plans, 10,000 original drawings, blueprints, photographs, and correspondence that help "fill the gaps of Los Angeles Modernism in the 20th century."[36]


Memorial to Paul R Williams north of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building dedicated October, 2015

Williams retired his practice in 1973, and died from diabetes on January 23, 1980, at age 85.[37] His funeral was held at the First AME Church he designed, and the presiding minister, Cecil Murray, was joined in the pulpit by Dr. William H.D. Hornaday, the Senior Minister of Founder's Church of Religious Science, that Williams also had designed. Dr. Hornaday described Williams as a gentle and courtly man of the highest integrity. Williams was interred in the Sanctuary of Radiance, Manchester Garden Mausoleum at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood. Williams's widow Della Williams (1895–1996) co-founded (with Fannie Williams) 'The Wilfandel Club' Established November 21, 1945, by black women active in the Los Angeles, California, community. The Wilfandel Club's goal has been to promote civic betterment, philanthropic endeavors, and general culture. The Wilfandel Club is the oldest African-American women's club in Los Angeles. Club meetings are still held at the beautiful Wilfandel Club House on 3425 West Adams Blvd in Los Angeles. Della Williams survived her famous husband by 16 years, living to the age of 100; she died on July 24, 1996. Her funeral was held at Founder's Church of Religious Science, designed by her husband. She was interred in the Williams crypt Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood.

On October 29, 2015, a monument and memorial plaza to Paul Williams was dedicated just to the north of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building as part of its recent renovation. The monument, made by artist Georgia Toliver features a 9-foot-tall bas relief of Paul Williams with many of his significant works. The bas relief is flanked with interpretive panels with a biography of Mr. Williams as well as a history of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company.


"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."[18]

"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."[2]: 46 

"Without having the wish to 'show them,' I developed a fierce desire to 'show myself,'" Williams wrote in his 1937 essay entitled "I am a Negro" for The American Magazine. "I wanted to vindicate every ability I had. I wanted to acquire new abilities. I wanted to prove that I, as an individual, deserved a place in the world."[18]

"Expensive homes are my business and social housing is my hobby."[5]

"Being a Californian was to my advantage. In California the people are interested in ideas that are new and fresh without the traditional or historical ties that are ordinarily more associated with East Coast thinking."[2]: 16 



  1. ^ a b Hudson, Karen E., Paul R. Williams Architect: A Legacy of Style, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 1993.
  2. ^ a b c d Hudson, Karen E. (1994). The Will and the Way. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 9780847817801.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Robinson-Jacobs, Karen (February 8, 2020). "This architect of classic Hollywood gets his own star turn". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  4. ^ "Paul R. Williams". BlacklistedCulture.com. January 15, 2020. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Budds, Diana (December 13, 2016). "The Overlooked Legacy Of Pioneering African-American Architect Paul Revere Williams". Fast Company. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  6. ^ Bengali, Shashank (Spring 2014). "Williams the Conqueror: Paul R. Williams 1894–1980". Trojan Family Magazine. Archived from the original on May 27, 2013.
  7. ^ Mark Alan Hewitt, "Williams, Paul R.," in Joan Marter, Ed., Grove Encyclopedia of American Art (Oxford, 2011): online edition
  8. ^ "Paul R. Williams, Architect – About – Paul Revere Williams". www.paulrwilliamsproject.org. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  9. ^ Stuart, Gwynedd (September 15, 2020). "Taking a Closer Look at the Lasting Genius of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  10. ^ "Della Mae Williams; Leader in Black Women's Groups". Los Angeles Times. August 3, 1996. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  11. ^ "1917 – Education – Paul Revere Williams". www.paulrwilliamsproject.org. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  12. ^ podley, deasy penner. "Remembering Paul R. Williams". deasy penner podley. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  13. ^ "Architect Paul Williams' Daughter Weds". Jet Magazine. Johnson Publishing Company: 19. September 11, 1952. Retrieved August 1, 2021.
  14. ^ Barbara Thornburg, "The man behind the look", Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2009.
  15. ^ MacDonald, J. Fred, ed. (1989). Richard Durham's Destination Freedom. New York: Praeger. p. x. ISBN 0275931382.
  16. ^ "Barrier-Breaking African American Architects We Should be Celebrating". February 21, 2019.
  17. ^ a b c Brandon, Elissaveta M. (March 16, 2020). "How Trailblazing Architect Paul R. Williams Changed Hollywood". Architectural Digest. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  18. ^ a b c Johnson Publishing Company (November 1986). Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. pp. 148–.
  19. ^ "Jay Paley Residence". Paul Revere Williams Project Gallery. 2010.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  21. ^ "Test your knowledge of black history in Southern Nevada": "Name the black architect who designed Carver Park's homes. Answer: Paul Williams who, White says, also designed the La Concha motel, homes in Berkeley Square – a black housing area – and other Las Vegas properties." Las Vegas Review Journal, February 2009.
  22. ^ "First African Methodist Episcopal Church", Los Angeles Conservancy
  23. ^ NRHP nom doc
  24. ^ Mella Rothwell Harmon (August 2003). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Luella Garvey House". National Park Service. and accompanying four photos
  25. ^ "Guardian Angel Cathedral, Las Vegas, NV". Paul R. Williams Project. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  26. ^ Sisson, Patrick (October 29, 2018). "Rare Paul Revere Williams home in Iowa seeking historic protection". Curbed. Retrieved February 5, 2022.
  27. ^ "Paley, Jay, House, Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, CA". Pacific Coast Architecture Database. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  28. ^ Johnson Heumann Research Associates (November 30, 1985). Cultural Resource Documentation Report – Westwood Village, part of the Westwood Village Specific Plan Study for the City of Los Angeles. Gruen and Associates. p. 31. Retrieved August 1, 2020.
  29. ^ Las Vegas Review Journal (Includes photo of La Concha Motel)
  30. ^ "MDRMS: History". Archived from the original on November 28, 2009.
  31. ^ Niemann, Greg (2006). Palm Springs Legends: creation of a desert oasis. San Diego, CA: Sunbelt Publications. p. 286. ISBN 978-0932653741. OCLC 61211290. (here for Table of Contents)
  32. ^ "Perino's Restaurant, Los Angeles". PaulRevereWilliamsProject.com. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  33. ^ "Solstice Canyon Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains". hikespeak.com. Hikespeak. Retrieved January 2, 2017.
  34. ^ "Saks Fifth Avenue". Los Angeles Conservancy. Archived from the original on March 30, 2020. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  35. ^ Hawthorne, Christopher (April 28, 2017). "For the late L.A. architect Paul R. Williams, national honor overlaps with a bleak anniversary". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  36. ^ "Architect Paul Williams' archive, thought lost to fire, is safe. The Getty and USC will acquire it". Los Angeles Times. June 30, 2020. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  37. ^ "The Political Graveyard: Politicians Who Received the Spingarn Medal". politicalgraveyard.com.
  38. ^ "Welcome". Paul Williams Place. Retrieved March 13, 2023.
  39. ^ "Hollywood's Architect" (Documentary). PBS SoCal. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  40. ^ "'Regarding Paul R. Williams' Honors Legacy Of LA's Barrier-Breaking Black Architect". WLRN. September 15, 2020. Retrieved September 16, 2020.


  • Hudson, Karen E. (1993). Paul R. Williams, Architect: A Legacy of Style. New York: Rizzoli. p. 240. ISBN 0847817636. LCC NA737.W527 H84 1993
  • Hudson, Karen E. (1994). The Will and the Way: Paul R. Williams, Architect. New York: Rizzoli. pp. 64. ISBN 0847817806. LCC NA737.W527 H85 1994
  • Sennot, Stephen, Samudio, Jeffrey B.(contributing editor), "Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture: Paul Revere Williams", Routledge, Taylor & Francis Publishers, January, 2004, 1,500 word biography of life and professional work
  • 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)
  • Hewitt, Mark Alan, "Williams, Paul R.," in Joan Marter, Editor, Grove Encyclopedia of American Art (New York: Oxford Univ. Press: 2011); online edition.
  • Getty, USC acquire vital archives, Files of Paul Williams Los Angeles Times

External links[edit]