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Visual Timeline: The Remarkable Life of Paul Revere Williams

In the course of his five-decade career, Paul Revere Williams, an African American architect born in Los Angeles on February 18, 1894, overcame prejudice and become one of the foremost architects in history. The path he has forged has served as an inspiration for young architects to this day. Learn more about the man and events that shaped his life in this timeline.
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The following is republished from The Paul R. Williams Project. For an expanded timeline complete with events from material history and society happening concurrent to milestones in the architect's life, refer to the extended version here.

In the course of his five-decade career, Paul Revere Williams, an African American architect born in Los Angeles on February 18, 1894, overcame prejudice and designed thousands of buildings; served on many municipal, state and federal commissions; was active in political and social organizations; and earned the admiration and respect of his peers. In 1957, he was the first African American elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. The path he has forged has served as an inspiration for young architects to this day. Learn more about the man and events that shaped his life in this timeline.

Hollywood's Architect Preview

Learn more about the remarkable life of Paul R. Williams on "Hollywood's Architect." Watch this preview.

1884


Paul Williams' father, Chester Stanley Williams, works at the original Peabody Hotel at the corner of Main and Monroe as a waiter from 1884 through 1893.

1887


Chester S. Williams, Paul R. Williams' father, opens a confectionery shop with John Brame at 163 Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. A confectionery store sells sweet foods, including candy, cakes, pastries, candy fruits and ice cream.

Today Abe Schwab's, a dry goods store, is located at 163 Beale Street.

A Schwab 163 Beale Street Memphis, TN 38103-3713 (901) 523-9782
A black and white image of the A Schwab storefront on 163 Beale Street Memphis, TN |

That same year Chester Stanley Williams and Lila A. Wright are married on February 25 in Avery Chapel, A.M.E. Church, Memphis.

1893


Paul R. Williams' parents, Chester and Lila, move to Los Angeles with Paul's older brother, Chester Stanley Williams, Jr. His parents open a fruit stand on Olvera Street. (L.A. Times, February 28, 1993) Olvera Street is one of the oldest sections of downtown Los Angeles.

A view down Olvera Street | Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, the Los Angeles Public Library
A view down Olvera Street | Security Pacific National Bank Photo Collection, the Los Angeles Public Library

1894


Chester S. Williams is listed in the Los Angeles city directory as a waiter living at 842 Santee Street. Paul R. Williams is born at the Santee Street home on February 18, 1894.

1898


Chester S. Williams, Paul's father, dies in 1896 when Williams is two years old. His mother dies two years later in 1898, leaving Williams and his brother orphans.

The 1898 Los Angeles city directory lists Lila Williams as living at 1405 Silver Street and working as a dressmaker.

1900


When he is six years old, Williams attends Sentous Avenue Grammar School on Pico Boulevard. He writes about this school later in his life and says that he is the only African American student in his class.

In the 1900 U.S. Census, Los Angeles is ranked 36th in the nation based on population. Slightly more than 102,000 residents live in Los Angeles, and of that number, only 3,131 are Negroes.

As a comparison, Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, seats 102,000.

1910


The 1910 census data lists Paul R. Williams living with Emily P. Clarkson at 784 E. 15th Street in Los Angeles. Clarkson is later variously described as Williams' foster mother, godmother or guardian.

In a 1970 interview with Maggie Savoy, L.A. Times' Women's Editor, Williams describes Charles Clarkson as his foster father. The First A.M.E. Church dedication stone (Williams is a life-long member of the church) lists "C. I. Clarkson" as a trustee in 1903. This church elder may be the same Clarkson who fosters the orphaned, four-year-old Paul R. Williams.

In 1963, Williams contributes design plans for a new building for the church at 25th and LaSalle.

First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles | Laurie Avocado / Wikicommons
First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles | Laurie Avocado / Wikicommons

A young Paul Revere Williams | Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
A young Paul Revere Williams | Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

1912


In June 1912, Paul R. Williams graduates with a class of 174 students from Polytechnic High School, Los Angeles. Polytechnic High School is described in a June 21 Los Angeles Times (1912) article as "the acme of present-day high school educational results."

For the next four years, he pursues a self-directed education studying architecture and improving his skills. As a member of the Los Angeles Architectural Club, he participates in the training and competitions offered through the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects (1913-1916); he studies architecture at the University of Southern California (1916-1919); he works as an apprentice in the offices of local architects and landscape designers.

1913


By 1913, Paul R. Williams is working in the firm of landscape architect/city planner Wilbur D. Cook, Jr. where he gains experience in integrating house and garden design plans. Cook's ideas influence Williams' designs and are evident in the extensive landscaping for the 1926 Baird/Stewart/Garza House.

Cook is known for his landscaping work in Southern California, including the original gardens at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the City Park in Anaheim — now Pearson Park and Irving Gill's Dodge House. Cook recognizes Williams' superior drafting and drawing skills when he assigns him the task of creating the hand-drawn perspective sketches for the park in Anaheim.

Baird/Stewart/Garza House, Glendale, CA, c. 2010 | David Horan for the Paul R. Williams Project at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis
Baird/Stewart/Garza House, Glendale, CA. 2010 | David Horan for the Paul R. Williams Project at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis

1914


After working with Cook, Williams writes that he works for Reginald Davis Johnson from 1914 to 1917. (1942 AIA document) Johnson, a Pasadena architect, is noted for designing luxury homes. His revival residential designs with patios, loggias and courtyards aim to create a "true California style" appropriate to the climate and way of life. (California Southland, Sept. 26, 1926) Williams' work is influenced by these ideas.

In an interview, Williams remembers his early career with Johnson. "The first thing he did was put me on a $100,000 home in Santa Barbara. I'd never been in a house that cost more than $10,000. I couldn't guess how a person could spend that much money. I soon found out." (Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1970)

1915


Williams is certified as a building contractor in 1915 and can build small projects. The California State Board of Architectural Examiners is the agency that maintains these records today, but the agency existed under a different name and mission in 1915. (Wesley Howard Henderson's unpublished research)

1916


William studies architectural engineering at the University of Southern California from 1916 through 1919.

Designs Commercial Building

In the March 30 issue of Los Angeles Builder and Contractor (later known as Southwest Builder and Contractor), Williams is listed as the designer for a two-story commercial building on South Los Angeles Street. Louis M. Blodgett, a successful African American millionaire, is the builder. Paul Williams later builds both of Blodgett's homes in 1922 and 1953.

1917


Registers for the Draft

On June 5, 1917, Williams registers for the U.S. military draft. He self-reports that he is an architectural draftsman working for Reginald Johnson.

Marries and Begins Work for Arthur Kelly

Williams marries Della Mae Givens on June 27, 1917. Della supports his career by "providing him with a comfortable setting in which he could visualize, create and turn his ideas into structures." (Los Angeles Sentinel, August 8, 1996) The Williams become a "power" couple on the social and philanthropic scene of Los Angeles.

He begins working with Arthur Kelly, whose design practice specializes in hotels, residences and public buildings. Williams works for Kelly from 1917 to 1921. (AIA papers) An example of Kelly's work is the dormitory at Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles. Playboy Mansion West, Hugh Hefner's Los Angeles residence, is another of Kelly's designs.

Enters 2nd White Pine Architectural Competition

Williams submits an entry to a national competition sponsored by the influential White Pine Monograph Series to design a house for $12,500. He doesn't win a prize, but his entry is published in an issue of The Independent, one of the first national publications to reproduce his work. Williams' design entry is described in the article as an "unsymmetrical plan ... with picturesque exterior ... Practicability has not been sacrificed to make the design interesting."

1918


White Pine Architectural Competition

Williams wins a Mention in 1918 for his design for a Lakeside Home in a national competition sponsored by the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs. In 1919, he enters the same competition with plans for a Community Centre Building. This design receives Special Mention by the panel of judges. "... it is an expression of a Community Center Group, has the charm of a New England town, and the Community Building is unmistakably a wooden structure."

Renderings for both winning entries are published in the Monograph Series and can be seen in the Gallery.

1919


Paul R. Williams' simple, compact and "well thought out" entry for the Hollow Tile House Competition is awarded first place by a panel of important regional architects, including John C. Austin. The judges write that Williams' superior renderings, tasteful exterior treatment and lack of "useless ornaments" contribute to the ease and economy of construction. His landscape design fits with Southern California conditions and extends the usable living space.

1920


At 25 years of age, Williams lives at 784 E. 15th in Los Angeles with wife Della and Emily P. Clarkson, who is listed as his godmother in the 1920 U.S. census. Williams describes his occupation as "draftsman at an architect's office." He soon moves to 1271 West 35th Street — a modest home in the black community of South Central Los Angeles where he lives for 30 years.

In 1920, he is appointed to the L.A. City Planning Commission by the 23rd Mayor of Los Angeles (Meredith P. Snyder) and serves on the commission until 1928. The city is changing dramatically with the railroads connecting Los Angeles to the rest of the nation. Land is cheap and abundant. Unlike cities in the East that accommodate growth with taller buildings, Los Angeles can spread out. The L.A. leaders want to plan for the city's future growth with a planning commission.

1921


In January 1921, the Southern Chapter of AIA names the periodical Southwest Builder & Contractor as the official publication for public announcements. The June 1921 issue of Southwest Builder & Contractor lists Paul R. Williams's official certification to practice architecture in California. Williams later becomes a registered architect in the District of Columbia, New York and Tennessee. (AIA Directory 1960)

Also in 1921, Williams begins work in John C. Austin's architectural firm where he works until 1924. Austin's firm is known for large public and commercial projects. The Shrine Civic Auditorium and Hollywood Masonic Temple (1922 Timeline Architecture) are projects in Austin's firm during the years of Williams' employment. Williams describes his position in Austin's office as draftsman.

Shrine Civic Auditorium exterior, 1939 | Works Progress Administration Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Shrine Civic Auditorium exterior. 1939 | Works Progress Administration Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

1922


Early commissions for wealthy clients

Flintridge, named for and developed by Senator Frank Putnam Flint, is a wealthy, segregated suburb near Pasadena. Williams designs scores of homes in this upscale community, including this house for Katherine Flint, the Senator's widow. (It is a smaller version of the couple's original residence.) In later interviews, Williams remembers his professional relationship with the Senator, “I got my start doing better homes ... from him." (Los Angeles Times. October 11, 1970) Eventually, he designs at least ten spec homes in the Flintridge area, and "the development has one of the greatest concentrations of Paul Williams' houses" in the region. (Personal communications, Tim Gregory, noted regional architectural historian, 2013)

The Louis Cass residence in Flintridge is typically described as Williams' first significant residential project for a wealthy white client. His biographies link the two men as high school classmates, but current research does not support this. Williams attended Polytechnic High School and graduated in 1912. Cass was an athletic star at Los Angeles High School, according to local newspaper accounts. After two years at Stanford University, he was named captain of the football team. (Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1911, and August 8, 1913) Cass becomes a successful insurance executive and is one of the founders of the Automobile Club of Southern California. In 1954, Williams designs a ranch house for Cass and his wife Virginia in Temecula, California.

Despite warnings that the African American community is not large or wealthy enough to support an architect, Williams finds work in this growing segment of society. After acquiring his architectural license, he begins to make important connections, including African American businessman Louis M. Blodgett. Blodgett, a Los Angeles entrepreneur with interests in construction, real estate, insurance and the funeral industry, hires the young architect to design a home in 1922 (and later in 1953). In 1924 Williams designs the Second Baptist Church — one of the first major construction projects in the Central Ave area of Los Angeles.

1923


Wins Special Mention in Small House Competition

In 1923, the Community Arts Association of Santa Barbara sponsors one of the earliest small house competitions in the United States. The cost to build the house could not exceed $5,000. Williams receives a "Special Mention" for his meritorious design. The judges note his creative placement of a fireplace on the outside terrace. Eight years later, Williams' entry is published in a catalog available nationwide of small house plans.

Williams joins AIA and opens an office

In 1923, Williams is notified by the Executive Secretary of American Institute of Architects (AIA), the national organization, of his election to membership. The Southern California Chapter of AIA elects Williams as an Associate member on September 30, 1922 — a prerequisite for National AIA membership. He is the first known African American member in AIA.

In the 1962 AIA Directory, Williams writes that he opens Paul R. Williams & Associates in the Stock Exchange Building in downtown Los Angeles. He continues working for John C. Austin until he establishes his own client base.

1924


Monrovia, California Administrative Group

Williams' and Milton W. Nigg's proposal for a group of administrative buildings is selected by the Monrovia Trustees from a number of competing proposals. Their winning rendering illustrates a complex of mission-style buildings with red tile roofs and stucco walls set in a park of mature oak trees covering a half block. (This particular architectural style is a popular choice for public buildings and private residences in Southern California throughout the 1920s.) The Monrovia Administrative Group is one of Williams' earliest successes for a large scale public complex.

The initial phase of the Administrative Group (Fire Department and Hall of Justice/Police Department/Jail buildings) is completed in February 1925. The swimming pool, bathhouse, tennis courts and athletic fields open later in the same year.

Second Baptist Church, Los Angeles

The Second Baptist Church, the first African American Baptist church in Los Angeles, opens its new facility in L.A.'s Central Avenue area. The building is designed by Williams and Norman F. Marsh, the official architect of the Southern Baptist Convention. The church pastor insists that all workmen constructing the church are from African American-owned businesses.

Second Baptist Church, Los Angeles, CA, 2010 | David Horan for the Paul R. Williams Project at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis
Second Baptist Church, Los Angeles, CA. 2010 | David Horan for the Paul R. Williams Project at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis

1925


Designs for a Small Brick House Published

In 1925, the American Face Brick Association publishes the sixth edition of their “The Home of Beauty: Designs for a Small Brick House.” The book is a collection of "well rendered" and "meritorious" small house designs the professional group hopes will inspire and educate consumers and contractors to improve the quality of new American single-family homes. They also hope the competition and their publication will encourage a growing middle-class consumer to consider brick when building a residence.

A panel of well-known architects selects the best design ideas from a field of 400 entries submitted for competition by architects and architectural draftsmen from across the country. (The competition is coordinated by the professional journal Architectural Forum, formerly The Brickbuilder and the Committee on Competitions of the American Institute of Architects.) Though Williams' entry for a "simple cottage" is not selected as one of the finalists, his rendering for House, No. 150 is deemed worthy of inclusion in the 1925 publication. The editor's description of the Williams design recommends clients and builders chose a northeast-facing site "thereby providing morning sun in the dining room and a pleasant exposure for the living room and garden."

A note in the book's introduction states that working drawings/specifications and a list of materials are available to anyone for a $25 fee with proof that a "competent builder or contractor" had been secured.

Designs a Public School

It is announced in the Los Angeles Times that Williams is preparing plans for a two-story brick grammar school. This school at 1314 South Dacotah Street opens in 1926.

1926


28th Street YMCA is completed

Williams' design for the 28th Street YMCA in the Central Avenue area of Los Angeles includes Spanish Colonial red clay roof tiles, a row of arched windows on the second-floor and smooth stucco finish. Bas-relief panels with busts of African American heroes, including Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass provide decorative detail in terra cotta with vines and scrolls. In 2011, it was decided by the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and Clifford Beers Housing that the building would receive a badly-needed renovation from Koning Eizenberg Architecture. The building — rechristened as the 28th Street Apartments — now has 49 affordable housing units and a 5-story addition behind the original structure. Williams’ design was preserved as much as possible, but a few elements were added to honor it, such as a figure of Williams himself on the first floor, a nod to the building’s original bas-reliefs of notable African Americans on the fourth-floor windows. The renovation has earned several awards for its environmentally-friendly design and commitment to preserving the original structure.

The 28th Street Apartments | Courtesy of Eric Staudenmaier/ Koning Eizenberg Architecture
The 28th Street Apartments | Courtesy of Eric Staudenmaier/ Koning Eizenberg Architecture

1927


Home designs in L.A. duplicated elsewhere

In an article in the Los Angeles Times (July 24, 1927), Williams describes instances where visitors to the city see his home designs and want to build a duplicate home. "The Spanish homes built here are usually a wonderful improvement on their prototypes in Europe, a thing that is generally admitted by visitors here from Spain."

Williams is known throughout his professional career as one of the best California practitioners of revival-styling. His residential architecture in the Spanish Colonial style, as reflected in the Baird/Stewart/Garza house, is highly prized by upscale modern homebuyers in Los Angeles.

Continues to receive commissions for Flintridge estates

John Bishop Green hires Williams to design a large weekend home, including the latest "modern" conveniences — electric refrigeration and automatic water heaters.

Los Angeles Times (June 5, 1927) describes this new residence in Flintridge as a project by "Paul Williams, one of Southern California's best-known architects."

1928


Hollywood YMCA

Williams' firm is hired in 1927 to expand and improve the Hollywood YMCA. Williams' building opens in 1928. Similar to the 28th Street YMCA, this building is considered a Spanish Colonial Revival with ceramic and terra-cotta interior decorative details. Unlike 28th Street Y, there is only one main entrance. Williams reconsiders the user’s circulation within the building allowing the managers more flexibility and encouraging members to participate in different activities.

YMCA Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA c. 2010 | David Horan for the Paul R. Williams Project at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis
YMCA Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA. 2010 | David Horan for the Paul R. Williams Project at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis

1929


Williams continues to design homes for wealthy during the Great Depression

Katherine Peachy hires Williams to design her house in Hancock Park — a development for wealthy Angelenos. Some of Williams' original design details could not be executed until 1933. Many building projects are down-sized because of the Great Depression.

Atkin Residence

Jack P. Atkin moves into his luxurious 12,000 square-foot home, designed by Williams, in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression. Atkin asks the architect to design a castle on a hill that would bring back "memories of his childhood in England." The 16-room Tudor Revival-style residence in Pasadena is built of brick with a slate roof. Williams utilizes expensive materials including oak, marble, custom-designed stained and leaded glass, and "In-Vis-O" Roller Screens for windows — all at Atkin's request.

Atkin rents the property to movie studios and the house is the setting for the movies Topper (1937) and The Bells of St. Mary's (1937). The famous residence is destroyed in a 2005 fire.

Atkin Residence | Still from "Hollywood's Architect"
Atkin Residence | Still from "Hollywood's Architect"

1930s


Williams designs for Hollywood elite

Hollywood is "depression proof." During the Great Depression, the public goes to the movies to forget their problems and enjoy the luxury of air conditioning. The famous Hollywood sign is erected in 1924 to promote a neighborhood development Hollywood Land. The sign becomes a symbol of glamorous Hollywood.

The Depression slows work for many architects, but Williams' office remains busy. By 1934, Williams completes over 36 residential estates. Many of his clients are important in the movie industry — directors, movie stars, producers, set designers, even make-up artists — including Otto Preminger, Corrine Griffith, Burt Wheeler, Lon Chaney, Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, Charles Correll and Jacob Paley.

Paley Residence exterior with curving driveway, ca 1938 | Courtesy of California State Library, Mott-Merge Collection
Paley Residence exterior with curving driveway. c. 1938 | Courtesy of California State Library, Mott-Merge Collection

In addition to his work on residential estates, Williams designs many of his most memorable commercial projects in this decade: Angelus Funeral Home, Music Corporation of America (MCA) headquarters, Saks Fifth Avenue and Sunset Plaza Apartments. He also begins a life-long relationship with Howard University.

Saks Fifth Avenue on Wilshire Blvd. c. 1938 | Courtesy of California State Library, Mott-Merge Collection
Saks Fifth Avenue on Wilshire Blvd. c. 1938 | Courtesy of California State Library, Mott-Merge Collection

1930


Thoughts on the Role of Interior Decorators

In an interview in 1970 with the Los Angeles Times' Maggy Savoy, Williams discusses his philosophy of design: "...know when to quit ... People don't always know what they want. It is the architect's job to help them find it, and keep within the bounds of grace."

When starting a project, Williams prefers to employ the ideas of an interior designer early in the process. In his career, Williams works with many important designers and design companies: Harriet Shellenberger, Bullocks of Los Angeles, Frank Baden of Webber Spaulding, Dorothy Draper, Edward F. White, Paul Laszlo & John Luccareni.

1931


Small House Plan Service publishes winning design

In 1923, Paul R. Williams wins honorable mention for his design of a small house entered in a competition sponsored by the Community Arts Association of Santa Barbara. The Community Arts Association is a pioneer in the movement to develop "better standards of small house architecture." Eight years later, his winning entry is included in a catalog of designs published by Theodore A. Koetzil, director of the Small House Plan Service. Koetzil selects the Williams' design for publication in his  catalog because "on studying the design today it is found still to hold its position in the first rank...the design is unquestionably good architecture of today." (Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1931)

1933


Williams is active in the community

In 1933, Williams is appointed to the first Los Angeles Housing Commission by Los Angeles Mayor Shaw. He serves on this municipal commission until 1941.

Throughout his life, Williams continues to be active in the community. In 1942, for example, he is named to Citizens' School Committee, a group that "has no other purpose than to bring about the election to the Board of Education the best possible timber." (Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1942) Later in 1942, Williams, along with 43 leading architects, opens an advice service at Mary Louise Schmidt's Architects Building-Materials Exhibit to foster a closer relationship between architects, owners and manufacturers. (Los Angeles Times, November 6, 1942)

1935


Begins work with Hilyard Robinson

In 1935, Williams becomes an associate member of the firm Hilyard Robinson and Paul R. Williams in Washington, D.C., where he is registered or licensed to practice architecture. He also becomes licensed in New York.

Together Williams and Robinson collaborate on many large projects, including Langston Terrace and buildings on the Howard University campus.

Elevated view of Langston Housing Project complex ca. 1920-ca. 1950 | Theodor Horydczak Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Elevated view of Langston Housing Project complex. c. 1920-ca. 1950 | Theodor Horydczak Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

1936


Becomes a Spokesman for New Building Technology

By 1936, modular steel housing is more than an experiment. Williams becomes the consulting architect for Lea Steel Homes of Los Angeles. His plans are featured in the Lea Steel Homes catalog and advertisements. Williams designs and builds a model Lea Steel Home for the 1934 Los Angeles House and Garden Show.

From a 1936 Los Angeles Times advertisement: "If you can buy a home of any kind, you can buy a Lea Steel Home ... resistant to damage by fire, termites, dry rot, termites and earthquakes ... Paul R. Williams, Consulting Architect."

Roland Giroux selects the 1934 House and Garden Show model for his El Reno Apartments, Reno, Nevada.

Book Features Homes

Lewis Storrs, Jr. illustrates his book “The Key to Your New Home: A Primer of Liveable and Practical Homes” with photographs of the built designs by important California architects. Williams' residences are featured in this book. Storrs believes that "awkward and superficial copies of historical styles of architecture have proved themselves unsatisfactory" in the 20th century. It is more important to build a house expressing the personality of the owner rather than forcing the owner to adapt to a classical formula of mathematical design. With this approach, a house is developed from the inside-out.

1937


Speaker at Hampton Institute

Williams is one of the speakers at the Thirteenth Hampton Builders' Conference Program. This annual conference is co-hosted by Hampton Institute and the National Builder's Association, the national organization for African Americans involved in the construction industry and building trades. Williams leads an open discussion on "national building problems." (The New York Age, February 13, 1937)

Portrait of Paul Revere Williams

I Am a Negro

This essay by Williams is published in the July 1937 issue of The American Magazine. The editor describes the essay as "the frankest, most human discussion of the color problem we have ever read." This autobiographical essay is edited and reprinted almost 50 years later after Williams dies in Ebony (November 1986).

1938


Music Corporation of America

Williams' practice expands to include commercial buildings with a residential feel. The MCA building is an example of Williams' most famous commercial buildings. This building is featured on the cover of the October 1938 issue of California Arts and Architecture.

Music Corporation of America, Litton Industries, exterior, Beverly Hills, CA, c. 2010 | David Horan for the Paul R. Williams Project at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis
Music Corporation of America, Litton Industries, exterior, Beverly Hills, CA. c. 2010 | David Horan for the Paul R. Williams Project at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis

1939


Receives AIA Award of Merit

Williams receives an Award of Merit from the Southern California (Los Angeles) Chapter of AIA (American Institute of Architecture) for the Music Corporation of America building.

1940


Named to California Draft Board

The Governor of California names Paul Williams to one of 107 district draft boards. The boards administer the Selective Service Act in the State. President Roosevelt approves Williams' nomination.

Several nominees had to withdraw because they were called into military service or their "business affairs would not permit participation." (Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1940)

Ralph A. Vaughn, a young designer in Williams' firm, remembers in an oral history that Williams closed his office shortly after December 7, 1941 or Pearl Harbor. (Wesley Henderson interview with Vaughn, 2/16/92)

1941


The Home Front: Columbia, a Country on the Uptake

Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1941

"I've been talking with Paul Williams, the Negro architect, and he told me about Colombia, a country which is on the uptake ... Mr. Williams actually has BEEN there ... the new thing about Colombia is that it is building a big city hotel, office buildings, clubs, homes ... all along the most advanced style ... A commission was sent to the States to study the hotel architecture ... When the commission reached Los Angeles, it was so enchanted ... it decided right then and there ... that this was the spirit it wanted. Mr. Williams got the job ... The selection of Mr. Williams to do the job was a nice compliment to Los Angeles."

The image of Hotel Nutibara is a rendering by R. Lockwood for Williams' office to present to the Colombian clients. This photograph is from The Huntington Library Maynard L. Parker archives.

Hotel Nutibara | Iván Erre Jota / Flickr / Creative Commons
Hotel Nutibara |

Williams in Home Show

"California Architecture" is the theme of the 1941 Los Angeles Home Show. Air, sunlight and space are important elements used to define this developing style. Photographs, sketches and models by architects Richard Neutra, R. M. Schindler, Cliff May, John Lautner, Lloyd Wright and Paul Williams are among those whose work best illustrates "California Architecture." (Los Angeles Times, Jan 19, 1941)

Lincoln University Honor

"Paul Williams, celebrated Los Angeles, Calif. architect, ... received the honorary degree of Doctor of Science at Lincoln University, Mo., June 10, 1941." (The Crisis, July 1941)

1942


Pueblo del Rio opens

Williams is known for his residential work, but he also works on public housing projects in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Pueblo del Rio is one of the first projects of this kind in Los Angeles. Architectural materials are scarce because of military conflicts in Europe and the Pacific, but the Southeast Housing Architects (Williams, Neutra, Wilson, Wurdeman, Becket, Kaufmann) completes this project within the budget, on time and using alternative materials. Pueblo del Rio is a model for public housing around the country in the 1940s.

The landscaping is simplified to save money, but the architects preserve some aspects that are functional as well as attractive: vegetable gardens, seeded lawns and fruit trees. (Architect and Engineer, September 1942).

El Pueblo del Rio | Housing Authority
El Pueblo del Rio | Housing Authority

Wartime projects

During World War II, private building projects are scarce and many firms shut their offices. Williams closes his practice and devotes his efforts to projects supporting the military and war effort. Williams' work at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, is an example of his war-time work.

Fort Huachuca, an early 19th-century frontier cavalry post near the Mexican border, is home of the famed 10th Calvary ("Buffalo Soldiers"). These soldiers are members of one of the Army's elite African American divisions. During World War II, many other African American servicemen train at the fort.

In 1942, Williams designs 125 housing units for the Army at Fort Huachuca, part of an intensive, 18-month building program. An African American company hires Williams in 1943 to design an amusement center for the soldiers in nearby Fry, Arizona. Because of the center's domed oval roof, the restaurant/bar is popularly known to the soldiers as the Greentop. The building includes a 6,400-square-foot dancefloor and the bar is decorated with a series of seven original murals by Chicago artist William E. Scott with the theme New Peace With Victory. An adjacent 50-room dormitory is designed for married officers and their wives. While hard liquor is not served at the Greentop, it is reported that the soldiers drink over two train carloads of draft beer monthly.

The Chicago Bee, a popular African American newspaper of the time, sent a writer to Arizona to report first hand on Williams' work at Fort Huachuca. He describes the Greentop complex as "the finest Army Recreational Center (barring none) in the United States." (March 28, 1943)

1943


Completes Work on Roosevelt Naval Base Project

Between 1940 and 1943, Williams, a member of the Allied Architects cooperative, works on this important west coast military project. Begun before the start of World War II, this naval facility is a center for Pacific Theater activities.

Photograph courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Maynard L. Parker photographer.

Roosevelt Naval Base | Maynard L. Parker, photographer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Roosevelt Naval Base | Maynard L. Parker, photographer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Williams Pursues Other War Contracts

The Negro Yearbook 1941-1946 describes a number of Williams' war-time projects for the United States Navy. Building on his successful experience designing affordable prefabricated metal housing during the 1930s, he forms the Standard Demountable Homes Company of California. This company specializes in the design and construction of temporary, transportable dwellings. His company negotiates with the War Department to develop and build these homes for war workers. While the demountable home is a quick, temporary solution during the war, Quonset-style homes quickly fell out of favor after the war.

1944


Career Used to Promote War Effort

Charles Alston, an artist in the Harlem Renaissance (1920-1930), creates a series of illustrations for the War Department with famous African Americans. The original drawings promote the war effort by highlighting the contributions of these individuals to Democracy.

Charles Alston, “Paul R. Williams,” 1943. | National Archives