Paul Williams


Paul Revere Williams (February 18, 1894 – January 23, 1980) was an American architect. He based his practice largely in Los Angeles, and the Southern California area. Orphaned at the age of four, he was the only African American student in his elementary school. He studied at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design and at the Los Angeles branch of the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design Atelier, subsequently working as a landscape architect. He went on to attend the University of Southern California, School of Engineering designing several residential buildings while still a student there. Williams became a certified architect in 1921, and the first certified African American architect west of the Mississippi.

On June 27, 1917 he married Della Mae Givens at the First AME Church in Los Angeles. They had three children, Paul Revere Williams, Jr. (born and died June 30, 1925, buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Los Angeles); Marilyn Frances Williams (born December 25, 1926); and Norma Lucille Williams (born September 18, 1928).

Williams won an architectural competition at age 25 and three years later opened his own office. Known as an outstanding draftsman, he perfected the skill of rendering drawings “upside down.” This skill was developed so that his clients (who may have been uncomfortable sitting next to a “Black” architect) would see the drawings rendered right side up across the table from him. Fighting to gain attention, he served on the first Los Angeles City Planning Commission in 1920. Williams was the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1939, he won the AIA Award of Merit for his design of the MCA Building in Los Angeles (now headquarters of the Paradigm Talent Agency).

During World War II, Williams worked for the Navy Department as an architect. Following the war he published his first book, The Small Home of Tomorrow (1945), with a successor volume New Homes for Today the following year. In 1957 became the first African American to be voted an AIA Fellow.

In 1951, he won the Omega Psi Phi Man of the Year award and in 1953 Williams received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP for his outstanding contributions as an architect and member of the African American community. Williams also received honorary doctorates from Howard University (doctor of architecture), Lincoln University (doctor of science), and the Tuskegee Institute (doctor of fine arts). In 2004, USC honored him by listing him among its distinguished alumni, in the television commercial for the school shown during its football games.

Williams famously remarked upon the bitter irony of the fact that most of the homes he designed, and whose construction he oversaw, were on parcels whose deeds included segregation covenants barring blacks from purchasing them.


The Will and the Way: Paul R. Williams, Architect by Karen E. Hudson

Paul R. Williams Architect by Karen E. Hudson

Paul R. Williams: A Collection of House Plans (California Architecture & Architects) by Paul R. Williams

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