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Sun, 02.18.1894

Paul Williams, Architect born

Paul Williams

*The birth of Paul Williams in 1894 is marked on this date. He was a Black architect.

Born in Los Angeles, Paul Revere Williams grew up in the city; his parents had migrated west from Tennessee. Orphaned by age four, Williams learned early the qualities of fierce determination that would guide his course. He was encouraged to learn from every experience by the strong-willed foster parents who took him in. His education began at Sentour Avenue School on Pico Boulevard, where he was the only "Negro" in his class.  Known as the class artist, Williams spent endless hours drawing. His talent caught the eye of a local builder, who planted the seed of an architectural career in his mind.

Williams aspired to be an architect from his student days at the Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles but was told, "Who ever heard of a Negro architect?" Williams worked his way through the University of California by teaching art until he became a certified architect in 1915. He continued his studies at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design and the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York. Following graduation, Williams was the only African American licensed west of the Mississippi as early as the 1920s.

Williams worked for large architectural firms until he gained sufficient experience in all branches of his profession to open his own office. Williams's firm took on large and small projects, working in a mixture of architectural styles; much of his work was residential. Williams designed mansions for film stars such as Lon Chaney, Lucille Ball, and Tyrone Power and planned thousands of small houses in developments throughout California and Nevada.

In the early ’30s, he was approached by automaker E.L. Cord, looking for someone to design his new house. Williams sized the man up instantly, sensing over the phone that Cord respected punctual achievement. Williams promised preliminary plans within 24 hours of their first meeting. Other planners had requested weeks. When Williams delivered on schedule without breaking to eat or sleep, Cord awarded him the commission for a 16-bedroom, 22-bathroom Southern Colonial home in Beverly Hills. Before World War II he was known as the architect to the stars, designing Beverly Hills' I., the home of CBS founder William Paley and over 3,000 other buildings in California.

The range of his clientele required him to be a designer of individuality. His clients often wanted very different looks. The striking, rectilinear 28th Street YMCA in South Central L.A., featuring portraits of Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, bears no resemblance to the luxurious, terraced Bel Air home complete with a ballroom and a pool so narrow that his rich client, who couldn’t swim, would never feel uncomfortably far from safety. In the Founder’s Church of Religious Science is stocky, domed, and round, and there isn’t even a trace of the lovely brick Second Baptist Church he designed in 1924.

He wrote about his interest in attractive and comfortable housing for lower-income groups in two publications, Small Homes for Tomorrow and New Homes for Today. Williams served on the Los Angeles City Planning Commission and Municipal Housing Commission. Many of Williams's best-known works were commercial or public. He assisted in the design of the Los Angeles International Airport and the Los Angeles County Courthouse. He was the architect for several department stores, hotels, and churches in California and Nevada. Paul Williams died in 1980.

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