Paul R. Williams was a great architect, artist, leader, and trailblazer with wide-ranging, compelling designs for residential and commercial use.
Paul took an interest in architecture when he entered Polytechnic High School in 1908 and was told that whoever heard of a Negro in architecture. That comment he called the blank wall of discouragement. However, he was not discouraged, and he took various courses from different schools to get the training he needed. Architectural contests were his way to get noticed without one knowing his race.
By 1916, he entered the University of Southern California to study architectural engineering and graduated in 1919. Los Angeles was a boomtown in 1921. At twenty-eight years, Paul opened his firm. He got his first big break from Senator Flint, who had an area known as Flintridge where luxury homes were being built. Another big break for Paul was in the movie industry, where actors and others wanted his designs for their luxury homes.
He developed a skill of drawing upside down for his white clients that felt more comfortable sitting across from him than beside him as they discussed the design of the home Paul would build for them. Paul’s holistic approach to design was to take the time to ask what the clients’ lifestyle looked like, their taste in architecture and to develop a design that was entirely integrated inside and out. His big break came when he designed a home for Frank Sinatra, and the home was televised.
Paul Williams had a cross-over appeal to white clients because he would say, “tell me what you are all about.” Paul had style and class. It was not long before Paul was creating the more lucrative commercial builds. He created the Beverly Hills Hotel, built churches, department stores, designed the LA airport, housing projects, and insurance company buildings. He also designed for his friend, Danny Thomas, his St. Jude hospital for children.
In 1923, he was elected as the first black member of the American Institute of Architects. In 1957, he was elected to the AIA College of Fellows. The American Institute of Architects posthumously awarded the gold medal to Williams in 2017.
Enjoy this magnificent video of the brilliance of Paul R. Williams (1894-1980), the architect of the Stars.