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Paul Revere Williams, FAIA (February 18, 1894 – January 23, 1980) was an American architect based in Los Angeles, California. He practiced largely in Southern California and designed the homes of numerous celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lon Chaney, Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Correll. He also designed many public and private buildings.[1][2]

Paul Williams
Paul R Williams.jpg
Photo of Paul Williams
Paul Revere Williams

(1894-02-18)February 18, 1894
DiedJanuary 23, 1980(1980-01-23) (aged 85)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
Buildings1925 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


Early yearsEdit

Orphaned at four years of age, 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, 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).

Architectural careerEdit

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 rendering drawings "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 draft upside down so that he could sit across the desk from his clients who would see his drafts right-side-up.

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

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]

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).

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.[3]

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

In 1951, Williams won the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., 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."


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

Essay: "I Am a Negro," American Magazine (1937).

Posthumous honorsEdit

In 2004, USC honored him by listing him among its distinguished alumni, in the television commercial for the school shown during its football games.

In 2017, Williams will be posthumously honored with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal. "Our profession desperately needs more architects like Paul Williams," wrote William J. Bates, FAIA, in his support of William's nomination for the AIA Gold Medal. "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."


Private homesEdit

Lon Chaney High Sierra House 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, California).[citation needed] 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. Modern interpretations of Tudor-revival, French Chateau, Regency, French Country, and Mediterranean architecture were all within his vernacular. One notable home, which he designed for Jay Paley in Holmby Hills,[4] and the current 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 blacks from purchasing them.[citation needed]

A number of his works are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[5]


(In Los Angeles, unless otherwise noted)

He also designed the Al Jolson tomb in Hillside Memorial Park, to which Jolson's body was moved in 1951. The tomb and fountain is 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, as Jolson had a long history of supporting African-American entertainers, in a time when that was controversial.

Professional recordsEdit

Williams' business records (letters, drawings, photographs) are lost. They were stored at the headquarters of Broadway Federal Savings in Watts. Williams renovated and repurposed this former Woolworth's building in 1954 for the bank. During the 1992 Los Angeles riots in the aftermath of the jury's verdict in the Rodney King case, the building and all contents were burned.[16]


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.[17] 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. 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 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."

"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."

"Without having the wish to 'show them,' I developed a fierce desire to 'show myself,'" Williams wrote in his 1937 essay for American Magazine, I Am a Negro. "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."



  1. ^ a b Hudson, Karen E., Paul R. Williams Architect: A Legacy of Style, Rixxoli International Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 1993.
  2. ^ Hudson, Karen E., The Will and the Way: Paul R. Williams, Architect, Rixxoli International Publications, Inc., NY 1994.
  3. ^ Barbara Thornburg, "The man behind the look", Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2009.
  4. ^ "Jay Paley Residence". Paul Revere Williams Project Gallery. 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ "First African Methodist Episcopal Church", Los Angeles Conservancy.
  8. ^ NRHP nom doc
  9. ^ Mella Rothwell Harmon (August 2003). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Luella Garvey House". National Park Service. and accompanying four photos
  10. ^ "Guardian Angel Cathedral, Las Vegas, NV". Paul R. Williams Project. Retrieved 2015-12-25.
  11. ^ (Includes photo of La Concha Hotel)
  12. ^ MDRMS: History Archived 2009-11-28 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Niemann, Greg (2006). Palm Springs Legends: creation of a desert oasis. San Diego, CA: Sunbelt Publications. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-932653-74-1. OCLC 61211290. (here for Table of Contents)
  14. ^ "Perino's Restaurant, Los Angeles". Retrieved 2017-05-15.
  15. ^ "Solstice Canyon Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains". Hikespeak. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
  16. ^ Paul Revere Williams Timeline.
  17. ^ The Political Graveyard


  • Hudson, Karen E. (1993). Paul R. Williams, Architect: A Legacy of Style. New York: Rizzoli. p. 240. ISBN 0-8478-1763-6. LCC NA737.W527 H84 1993
  • Hudson, Karen E. (1994). The Will and the Way: Paul R. Williams, Architect. New York: Rizzoli. p. 64. ISBN 0-8478-1780-6. 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)

Further readingEdit

  • The Will and the Way: Paul R. Williams, Architect By Karen E. Hudson, Paul R. Williams Edition: illustrated Published by Rizzoli, 1994 ISBN 0-8478-1780-6, ISBN 9780847817801

External linksEdit