Celebrating the Life and Work of Paul Revere Williams

It’s no secret I love a good building. Los Angeles is filled with many beautiful buildings of both the private and commercial kind, and in a wide variety of styles. One person who embodied Los Angeles architecture was Paul Revere Williams, and recently the LA Conservancy teamed up with the National Organization of Minority Architects for a celebration of Williams and his work starting today! Before we dive into those details, let’s talk about just who Paul Revere Williams was and why he is important to the Los Angeles landscape.

Born February 18, 1894 in Los Angeles, Paul Revere Williams faced tragedy early on, when both of his parents died of tuberculosis just two years apart, and he went into foster care. Thankfully his foster mother supported his education and creativity, as he entered elementary school as the only Black child at his school. He attended Polytechnic High School, where he expressed a desire to become an architect, to which a teacher responded with “Who ever heard of a Negro being an architect?” However, Williams persevered, attending USC, and becoming certified as a building contractor in 1915, and a licensed architect in 1921. Just two years later he opened his own firm and became the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects.

Black and white photograph of Paul Revere Williams, a dapper gentleman in a suit with a small mustache.

Los Angeles became a boom town in the 1920s, and Williams’ wide range quickly became apparent, designing small affordable houses as well as larger homes for LA’s wealthy. He went on to design homes for some of Hollywood’s elite, including Frank Sinatra, and Lucille Ball. Williams expanded and did commercial buildings as well, including YMCAs, churches, schools, hotels, and more. Much of Williams success is due to his versatility and his incredibly ability to understand his clients and their desires. Unlike the works of say Frank Lloyd Wright, Williams’ work is not instantly identifiable as his own. He was a complete and utter chameleon, working within the styles of Spanish Colonial Revival, Tudor, and Mid-Century Modern.

It is estimated that Williams designed over 3000 buildings, with over 2000 of them being in Los Angeles, including one of the icons of the city, the LAX Theme Building, as well as the 1940s redesign of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Perhaps the most iconic non-Los Angeles building is the La Concha Motel in Las Vegas, which today acts as the main entrance to Las Vegas’ Neon Museum.

Postcard featuring the LAX theme building, an almost starfish like arching white building, with a large jet plane in front. Text reads "'Jet Age' International Air Terminal"

The La Concha at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, a white arching building that emulates a shell.

You can see more images from our 2017 visit to the Las Vegas Neon Museum here.

While a handful of Williams’ buildings are the National Register of Historic Places, many have been lost, and it is the goal of the LA Conservancy to highlight the value of Williams’ work and help save them. Not only are Williams’ designs architectural masterpieces, they are also part of minority representation. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, Black architects only make up two percent of certified architects in the United States, thus it is vital to save their work, especially ones as influential as Williams. Williams’ legacy was honored in 2017 when he was posthumously awarded the highest honor for an American architect, the Gold Metal from the American Institute of Architects.

To celebrate Williams’ work and draw attention to their fragility, the LA Conservancy and the National Organization of Minority Architects are offering multiple virtual tours called Paul Revere Was Here starting today!

On the left a blue and green map of Los Angeles, with the silhouette of a man walking, black text reads "Paul Revere was Here On the Trail of L.A.'s Legendary Architect Paul R. Williams" and on the right a photo of the Beverly Hills Hotel's green side with white script reading "Beverly Hills Hotel" and tall palm trees stretching toward a blue sky.

The tour covers locations from Williams’ life, career, and his legacy, showcasing his impact on LA. Those who purchase tickets for the tour also receive a digital packet featuring maps and information so you can go on a self-guided driving tour around LA. Other virtual tour dates are April 29, May 12, and 26. In addition to the tour, there is a virtual panel tomorrow, April 15, featuring Williams’ granddaughter, Karen Hudson. For details, as well as tickets, please visit the LA Conservancy’s website.

About Paul R. Williams, Architect.” Paul Revere Williams, American Architect.” Accessed: 13 April 2021.
Paul R. Williams.” Los Angeles Conservancy. Accessed: 14 April 2021.

Image Sources
1 & 4: Los Angeles Conservancy
2: Personal postcard collection
3: Taken by myself

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