Architect Of Note

Paul Williams

"f 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."   - Paul Williams

Paul Revere Williams (February 18, 1894 – January 23, 1980) was a Los Angeles-based, American architect. He practiced largely in Southern California and designed the homes of numerous stars as well as other public and private buildings.

Orphaned at the age of four, Williams 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.

He married Della Mae Givens on June 27, 1917, 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) could see the drawings rendered right side up across the table from him. Struggling 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).

Archibald Quincy Jones (1913-79) worked for 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.

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.

Notable Works

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 Colby’s" (1060 Brooklawn Dr. Bel Air) This is currently the home of Barron Hilton. His client list included Frank Sinatra (the notorious pushbutton house), Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, 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 with Hilyard Robinson 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.

Notable Work

·    Hollywood YMCA
·    First Church of Christ, Scientist (Reno, Nevada)
·    Los Angeles County Courthouse
·    Los Angeles County Hall of Administration
·    United Nations Building, Paris, France
·    Roberts House Ranch, Malibu, CA (The remains of the burned down structures can be visited on the Sostice Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.)
·    Saks Fifth Avenue Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills California
·    Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills, California
·    Arrowhead Springs Hotel & Spa, San Bernardino, California
·    Shrine Auditorium (Williams helped prepare construction drawings as a young architect.)
·    Jet-Age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) (In the 1960s as part of the Pereira & Luckman firm and with consulting engineers, Williams helped design this futuristic landmark.)
·    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).
·    Carver Park Homes Nevada
·    The La Concha Motel, Nevada
Williams retired his practice in 1973. He died at age 85. He is interred in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood.