July 15, 2020, 10:31 am
Paul Revere Williams, FAIA is arguably one of this country’s most notable black architects. Born and raised in Los Angeles, and an orphan by the age of 4, Williams went on to become the first black student to graduate from USC – which he did in 1919 with a degree in architectural engineering. Fresh out of college, he was appointed to the LA City Planning Commission and worked under a number of prominent architects before starting his own practice in 1922. A year later he became the first black member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Few architects have done more to shape Los Angeles’ signature architectural legacy than did Williams over his 5-decade career. Unlike many architects, Williams never cultivated a particular “style,” opting instead to suit each home to the clients’ wishes – lending him a unique architectural breadth.
In addition to his significant contributions to commercial buildings, including work on iconic structures such as the Los Angeles International Airport, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and the Shrine Auditorium, Williams designed some 2,000-plus residential homes. Many of those homes were commissioned by business magnates and celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, and Barron Hilton – earning Williams the title “Architect to the Stars.”
Shamefully, racist housing policies of the era would have barred Williams himself from owning most of the homes he designed and oversaw the construction of – a dark irony that wasn’t lost on him. Among the many Paul Williams-designed homes Deasy Penner Podley has represented over the years, we recently had the distinct honor of listing and selling the home Williams designed for his family to live in historic Lafayette Square.