Over the next few weeks, the Los Angeles Urban League will highlight some of our local and national Black pioneers as we celebrate Black History Month. This week, we celebrate Paul Revere Williams, an exceptional architect who blazed a trail of creative and innovative designs and iconic structures throughout Los Angeles that continue to astound Angelenos and visitors alike. He left an indelible mark on Los Angeles. Mr. Paul Williams is undoubtedly one of history’s most prominent architects.
Paul Williams was born in downtown Los Angeles in 1894. His parents died before he turned four (4), and a family member raised him. After graduating high school, the ambitious, young Williams landed several internships and jobs at local architectural firms. Family members, concerned about the limited opportunities for Black architects, urged Williams to pursue a more practical profession. Undeterred, Paul Williams took classes at the Los Angeles Beaux-Arts School and ultimately attended USC’s School of Engineering.
As one of only a few African American architects during this period, Williams faced many challenges due to racial discrimination. In response, he developed ways to overcome these discriminatory obstacles. One of his most notable talents was his ability to sketch upside down, which impressed his potential white clients and allowed them to avoid the racist “indignity” of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a Black man. Despite these barriers, however, Paul Williams made valuable contributions to architecture and the civil rights movement.
Paul Williams was also a powerful advocate for civil rights. Paul Williams helped to establish the Southern California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1928. He also served as the first African American president of the Los Angeles branch of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He founded several other professional organizations, including the Alpha Rho Chi fraternity and Los Angeles’s First Congressional Church, where many prominent civil rights leaders gathered to discuss education, housing, and discrimination laws.
Throughout his remarkable career, Williams designed or remodeled more than 2,000 structures throughout Southern California. Williams’ architectural designs in Los Angeles are still celebrated today. From the arches of the Theme Building in the Los Angeles World Airport to the iconic Polo Lounge, Crescent Wing, and unique looping signature of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Mr. Williams’ designs are unlike any other. Paul Williams designed and remodeled numerous iconic structures in the city, like Union Station, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and many more. He also designed several private residences for Hollywood celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Tyrone Power, and Frank Sinatra. His work helped shape the city of Los Angeles into the metropolitan powerhouse it is today. And he did so against all odds.
Even after achieving high-profile recognition, Paul Williams never turned his back on the community that nurtured him to greatness. After he had established himself, Paul Williams chose projects that would work to uplift the Black community. By designing everything from banks and churches in predominantly Black neighborhoods to affordable housing for Black veterans returning from World War II, Paul Williams put the same heart into his projects as all his others.
Paul Revere Williams was a groundbreaking architect and civil rights leader whose work impacted the city of Los Angeles and beyond. He overcame many challenges to become one of the most successful African American architects of his time, and his legacy continues to inspire new generations of architects and activists alike. The next time you find yourself on the way to LAX, driving past Union Station, or down Sunset Boulevard past the Pink Palace, we hope you will think of Paul Revere Williams and how he helped to inspire so many others to follow in his footsteps by building a better tomorrow.
Please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_R._Williams for more information regarding the history of Paul Revere Williams