clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Paul Revere Williams: Get to Know the Trailblazing Black Architect

New, 2 comments

A look at some of Williams's greatest hits

If you nerd out about 20th-century American residential design, you've likely heard of Paul Revere Williams. The architect, born in 1894 in Los Angeles, was the mastermind behind a score of glitzy homes across L.A and southern California. He gained fame for designing residences for L.A.'s elite in traditional styles, including sprawling Tudor Revival homes, modest Spanish Colonial Revival ones, and everything in between for largely celebrity clients.

In just one Williams design, in L.A.'s Holmby Hills neighborhood, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Mia Farrow, and David Niven each, at some point or another, called it home. This would be impressive for any architect, but for Williams, a black architect in 1920s America—a time of deeply entrenched racial segregation—it was nothing short of staggering.

Williams, who became the first black member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923, didn't solely design in L.A.: He worked in Las Vegas, Memphis, and elsewhere. Nor did he design only private residences—or even ones in traditional, revivalist styles.

Consider, for instance, the iconic Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (which he co-created in 1961 with a team of engineers and fellow architects), and its space-age modernism; or the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (1958), with its stalwart, Late Moderne, masonry facade; or Williams's building for what was once the west's largest black-owned private insurance company, the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building. Williams wasn't a gesturist. He was just a thinking architect.

In honor of Williams's body of work and the approaching end of Black History Month, here's a look at some of Williams's greatest hits, from public works to private residences and a few things in between. Sir—we salute you.