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Paul Revere Williams

Paul Revere Williams, Architect [1894-1980]

Paul Revere Williams was born February 18, 1894, in Los Angeles, California. After graduating from high school in 1912, he attended the Los Angeles School of Art and the Beaux Arts School of Design Atelier. "As a high school student," Karen Hudson wrote, "he made a commitment to himself to become an architect, and in 1923 he became the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects..."

From 1916 to 1919, Williams worked for the architectural firm of Reginald D. Johnson, AIA, initially without compensation. Johnson was a famous architect who was well known for promoting the Spanish Colonial Revival style which was so popular in Southern California. During these years Williams was one of eight students selected to be the first class in Architectural Engineering at the University of Southern California. He graduated from USC in 1919.

Williams was considered a "rising young architect" in 1923. He set up his own practice in 1924 in Los Angeles. He later received many awards for his work including honorary doctorate degrees from Howard, Lincoln and Tuskegee Universities. In 1953 the NAACP awarded Williams the Spingam Medal for contributions to the field of architecture. In a time of racial segregation, Williams overcame many obstacles to receive the respect and confidence of his early clients. For example, he observed that many clients were uncomfortable sitting along side him as he drew the renderings of their houses in response to his questions, so he learned to draw upside down, and was able to create beautiful architectural renderings quickly in this unusual position.

Williams designed many private residences in his career. Particularly before he reached the age of 50 in 1944, most of his projects were residential. Williams demonstrated a mastery of all of the popular styles of residential architecture. He was known as the "architect to the stars" because so much of his work was for Hollywood celebrities including homes for Frank Sinatra, Lon Chancy and Lucille Ball. As Williams and his practice matured, he increasingly turned his attention to commercial and public buildings and designed a remarkable variety of buildings, including Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and the Los Angeles Courthouse. One of his most recognized projects is the theme building at LAX airport. During his career, which spanned fifty years and created over 3000 buildings, his architectural designs embraced many styles including English Tudor, California Ranch, Art Deco and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

† Ilse M. Byrnes, Historian, Goldschmidt House, Orange County, CA, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.