Paul R. Williams Residence
1952 – Paul R. Williams
Paul Revere Williams was born on February 18, 1894, at 842 Santee Street in Los Angeles, allowing the city to lay claim not only to the majority of the architect’s work but also to Williams himself as a born and bred Angeleno.
Williams was certified as an architect in 1915, a year before he entered U.S.C. to study architectural engineering. He apprenticed with Reginald Johnson and John C. Austin, whom he helped prepare drawings for the Shrine Auditorium and other buildings. In 1921, he received his California architect’s license, setting up his own firm, Paul R. Williams and Associates, in late 1922.
From the L.A. Public Library.
Some P.R. highlights: he was appointed to L.A.’s first City Planning Commission and first Housing Commission; he was the American Institute of Architects’ first African-American member, later being elected to the AIA College of Fellows; authored monographs Small Homes of Tomorrow and New Homes for Today; served as vice president of Broadway Federal Savings and Loan; and President Coolidge appointed him to the National Monuments Committee and President Eisenhower named him to the National Housing Commission. For a dozen years, he served as president of L.A.’s Cultural Affairs Department’s Municipal Arts Commission, now known as the Cultural Affairs Commission.
Williams is the designer behind a trove of L.A. Historic-Cultural Monuments, including the Second Baptist Church Building (No. 200), the Barbara Stanwyck Residence AKA Oakridge (No. 484), the 28th Street Y.M.C.A. Building (No. 851), and (co-designer of) the Airport Theme Building (No. 570). He also contributed to the County Courthouse and the County Hall of Administration.
He designed more than 300 Beverly Hills houses and businesses, notably Saks Fifth Avenue and the MCA headquarters, the latter for which he won an AIA Award of Merit. And how many production deals have you made in his Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel?
Although often associated with expensive, fancy period revival homes for the well-to-do, remember Williams was also the chief architect on the Pueblo del Rio Public Housing Project in Vernon and Hacienda Village at 103rd Street and Compton Boulevard.
Besides Stanwyck and others, Williams’s celebrity clientele listed Frank Sinatra, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, Bert Lahr, Tyrone Power, Cary Grant, Julie London, Will Rogers, Anthony Quinn, Lon Chaney, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. No wonder he was known as "Architect to the Stars."
Unfortunately, not all of Williams’s works are still around (with around 3,000 homes to his credit, that’s not so much a surprise). His $400,000, sixteen-bedroom Beverly Hills home for auto manufacturer E.L. Cord, Cordhaven, was torn down in 1963, and 1934’s Sunset Plaza Apartments (HCM No. 233) bit the dust in 1987. A good place to lament the passing of these and other buildings would be at the Ambassador Hotel’s coffee shop, also designed by Williams.
Of course, the big irony is that while the architect was creating homes and businesses for folks in Palm Springs, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, and Hancock Park, Williams himself wasn’t welcome to live in many of these areas, for Pete’s sake (he was black, remember). He wound up building this home, HCM No. 170, for his family in the early fifties in one of the few areas of L.A. open to upscale African-Americans. Williams made his name designing period revival homes, but this one is International Moderne. Is there an International Moderne Revival style?
Paul R. Williams retired in 1973 and died seven years later, on January 23, 1980.
By the way, you may’ve noticed I didn’t post the landmark’s address. This is to appease the current owner, who wasn’t happy I was taking pictures of her home. (She was curious as to how I even found the place, claiming she’s gone to great lengths of keeping the address from being published in books. Er, right.) But, I don’t want to ruffle any feathers, making the poor woman lose sleep over my humble blog. In the end, any of you with the resourcefulness of a three-year-old can quickly unearth the address in case you want to see this elegant home in person.
Williford, Stanley O. “Early American Black Architect, 85, Dead” The Los Angeles Times; Jan 28, 1980, p. B22
Hudson, Karen E. Paul R. Williams, Architect: A Legacy of Style Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1993 New York, NY
Hudson, Karen E. The Will and the Way Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1994 New York, NY
Up next: (Site of) Timms Landing