Discover the remarkable story of Paul Revere Williams, a pioneering architect who left an indelible mark on the landscape of Los Angeles. Born on February 18, 1894, in downtown Los Angeles, Williams faced early challenges, orphaned at the age of four. Despite adversity, he found inspiration in his foster mother's dedication to his education, instilling in him the belief that he could achieve anything. Williams defied societal expectations, becoming the first African-American architect west of the Mississippi.
Early Education and Career Beginnings
Williams's journey into architecture started at Polytechnic High School, where he discovered his passion for the craft. Despite racial barriers, he pursued formal education at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design Atelier, and the University of Southern California, completing his architecture degree in 1921.
By the age of 25, Williams had won architectural competitions and established his practice. His talent and clientele flourished in the 1920s, setting the stage for his iconic designs that would define the architectural landscape of Los Angeles.
Overcoming Racism Through Artistic Mastery
Early in his career, Williams developed a unique skill—writing upside down while facing clients—to counter racial biases. This "artistic sleight of hand" aimed to make a dazzling first impression, challenging preconceptions based on the color of his skin.
It's ironic that Williams, celebrated for designing homes for the elite, faced housing restrictions due to racist land covenants. These discriminatory practices persisted until Supreme Court rulings in 1948 and 1953.
Sunset Plaza Apartments (Designed 1935)
One of Williams's masterpieces, the Sunset Plaza Apartments, stood as a testament to luxury and innovation. Built in 1936 for photographer Frank S. Hoover, the Georgian Revival luxury apartment boasted modern conveniences and an inventive heating and cooling system. Despite its historical significance, the Sunset Plaza Apartments were tragically demolished in 1987.
Rochester Mansion (1937)
Eddie Anderson, the first African-American with a regular role on a nationally syndicated radio show, commissioned Williams for his home. Facing restrictive covenants, Anderson chose a lot in Exposition Park, where the Rochester Mansion stood as a symbol of architectural excellence.
Pueblo Del Rio (Chief Architect 1940)
Collaborating with architect Richard Neutra, Williams contributed to the Pueblo Del Rio Housing project, embracing the "garden city" concept. Spanning 17.5 acres with 57 two-story apartment buildings, it stands as one of Los Angeles's oldest and largest housing projects.
Beverly Hills Hotel (Renovations and Additions 1941-1949)
Williams left an enduring mark on the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel, redesigning interiors and creating the now-iconic Banana leaf motif. His aesthetic contributions have become synonymous with the hotel's charm.
Los Angeles County Courthouse (Collaboration 1951)
Part of the Associate Architects collaboration, Williams played a pivotal role in the design of the Los Angeles County Courthouse. Construction began in 1954, and the building opened in 1959, showcasing Williams's commitment to civic architecture.
Saks Fifth Avenue, Beverly Hills (Original Design 1937)
Collaborating with architects John and Donald Parkinson, Williams contributed to the design of Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. The store's $2,000,000 men's attire division opened in 1947, reflecting Williams's modern design sensibilities.
Perino's (Designed 1954)
In 1954, Williams designed Perino's, a venue that became an iconic part of Los Angeles's social scene. Despite its closure in 1986 and subsequent demolition in 2005, Perino's remains a testament to Williams's influence.
Legacy and Recognition
Paul R. Williams's legacy extends beyond his architectural marvels. With around 3,000 projects in his portfolio, he became the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects in 1921. His posthumous recognition includes induction into the AIA College of Fellows in 1957.
Williams's story is one of resilience, creativity, and breaking barriers. His impact on Los Angeles is immeasurable, creating spaces that continue to inspire and shape the city's identity. As we delve into the architectural legacy of Paul Revere Williams, we celebrate a visionary who defied societal constraints, leaving an enduring mark on the City of Angels.