Born: Los Angeles, California
Education: Los Angeles School of Art and Design; Los Angeles branch of the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design Atelier; University of Southern California
Best known for: Designing more than 2,000 private L.A. homes (some for celebrities) in an almost theatrical array of styles. Paul R. Williams battled prejudice throughout his career while making quite a name and a following for himself. Williams was the first certified African-American architect west of the Mississippi, and became the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1923.
From the 1920s until he retired in 1973, Williams was known as an outstanding draftsman with a prolific career. His designs for public and private buildings took shape in Paris and Columbia, New York, Washington, D.C., Les Vegas, Reno, and Memphis. However, Los Angeles was his home base, where he made his impression in some of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods.
Williams served on the first Los Angeles Planning Commission in 1920, became a certified architect in 1921, and opened his own office a few years later at age 28. Dotting the Hollywood Hills and surrounding areas, are some off the 2,000+ home Williams designed for clients including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Bert Lahr and early screen legends Tyrone Power Lon Chaney, Barbara Stanwyck, and Charles Correll. Elegant period-revival homes through modern eyes became his signature, as Williams created modern interpretations of Tudor-revival, French Chateau, Regency, and Mediterranean.
Williams was one of the many midcentury architects whose career was affected by World War II. During the war he worked as an architect for the Navy.
His four high-profile projects in the post-war desert were all commercial. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Williams worked with his former employee A. Quincy Jones to complete a modern remodel of the burgeoning Tennis Club, as well as partnering on the Town & Country Center and Romanoffs on the Rocks, a restaurant where gangsters rubbed elbows with high society. Williams also completed a full modernization of El Mirador Hotel while restoring its early glamor. Unveiled in 1952, the 1920s icon reopened to celebrity fanfare.
In 1939, Williams received the AIA Award of Merit for his design of the MCA Building in Beverly Hills. In 2017, he was posthumously honored with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal for his pioneering career.
Other Notable Properties:
- Tennis Club, 1946
- Town & Country Center, 1947
- Romanoffs on the Rocks restaurant, 1950
- El Mirador Hotel renovation, 1952