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Paulwilliams Architect Historical

Paul Williams Shaped the Face of Los Angeles Architecture

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Black History Month is celebrated during February and is the perfect opportunity to recognize the contributions of a historic and groundbreaking black architect who shaped the face of Los Angeles architecture forever.

“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.”

Paul Williams, Architect

Paul Williams was a native Angeleno and largely practiced in Southern California. He was the only African-American student in his elementary school and went on to study at the Los Angeles School of Art, the Los Angeles branch of the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design. He went on to further his education at the University of Southern California (USC) studying architecture, where he designed several residential buildings while a student there. He became a certified architect in 1921, becoming the first black architect west of the Mississippi. He later became a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1923 and was inducted as their first black fellow. When he began his career, he could not find another black architect to be a role model or mentor.

Williams made his name by being an architect to the stars. His work would come to signify the glamorous and luxurious lifestyle of Southern California. One of the hallmarks in his designs was a luxurious curving staircase, which was the prominent feature in a 1925 Colonial he built in Brentwood for a notable financial services mogul. The new owner remarked that when he first saw the home, it looked so luxurious that he wasn’t sure he could afford the home, but if he could afford the staircase, he would take it with him. Williams’ homes were soon know for their grace, design and elegant proportions. They attracted such clients as Frank Sinatra, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lon Chaney, Sr., Lucille Ball, Julie London, Tyrone Power, Barbara Stanwyck, Bert Lahr, Charles Correll, Will Hays, Zasu Pitts, and Danny Thomas. In all, he designed over 2300 homes in the Hollywood Hills and the Mid-Wilshire district.

Paul Williams retired in 1973 and passed in January of 1980. In October 2015, a monument and memorial plaza was dedicated to Williams north of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance building. It features a bas relief of Williams with many of his works.

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