As a Golden Age Hollywood star in search of a grand, stylish new home, there’s a very good chance one would’ve sought out the services of brilliant, prolific Black architect Paul Revere Williams. Called “The Architect of Hollywood,” Williams designed more than 2,000 buildings, mostly in Southern California, starting in the 1920s all the way through the 1970s, and in a range of styles — from traditional colonials to midcentury modern marvels. Williams was a favorite of California celebs and business magnates alike, counting Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, William “Bojangles” Robinson, Lon Chaney, and other entertainers among his high-powered clientele.
So, what attracted so many to Williams’ designs? As a native of Los Angeles, you could say that Williams had an innate and personal understanding of the city and its development. Williams was born in 1894 in a middle-class Black family originally from Memphis, Tenn., but after both his parents passed away from tuberculosis at a young age, he was adopted and attended various schools, including the Los Angeles School of Art and Design. Over the next few years, he trained at various art and engineering schools and worked for several local architects before becoming a licensed architect in California in 1921 — making him the first Black architect west of the Mississippi. Ttwo short years later, he becomes the very first Black member of the American Institute of Architects.
By the early 1920s, Williams was completing a range of projects, from residences for wealthy white families to public buildings like churches, educational buildings, and office complexes in the booming city. Despite the Great Depression in the 1930s — not to mention the deep prejudice and racism he encountered, even from his own clients — Williams’ office remained bustling and completed some of the major residences that earned him the moniker of “The Architect of Hollywood.”
Even during World War II, Williams continued working, albeit on military-related projects, and resumed his broad range of project types following the end of the war. By then, his name was well-established for his style that merged historical styles and luxurious, dramatic designs with more contemporary materials and finishes, often in the Hollywood Regency style. Through the late 1940s and into the 1950s and 1960s, Williams devoted more of his time to affordable housing for the masses, hospitals across the globe, and even helped design the retro-futuristic Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport.
Want to find out more? Add Paul R Williams, Architect by his granddaughter, Karen E. Hudson to your reading list, and take a look at our gallery for some of his homes that have remained abodes for California’s luminaries over the years.