Paul Revere Williams

The Architect

“I wanted to prove that I, as an individual, deserved a place in the world.”
Paul R. Williams
The American Magazine, 1937
“Without having the wish to show them, I developed a fierce desire to show myself.”
Paul R. Williams
The American Magazine, 1937
“I possessed natural skills of drawing and an instinctive interest in the design of building”
Paul R. Williams
The American Magazine, 1937
“I labored over the plans for a $15,000 residence as diligently as I do today on the plans for a huge mansion.”
Paul R. Williams
The American Magazine, 1937
”To be sincere in my work, I must design homes, not houses.”
Paul R. Williams
The American Magazine, 1937
“I heard of only one Negro architect in American and I was sure this country could use at least one or two more.”
Paul R. Williams
Ebony Magazine, August 1963
“During this art school ‘hopping’ I developed the art of making sketches upside down – a gimmick which still intrigues a client.”
Paul R. Williams
Ebony Magazine, August 1963
“A successful student starts studying after he finishes college.”
Paul R. Williams
Ebony Magazine, August 1963
“What the world needs today is a new concept for a substantial, economical house that can be built for the sales price of a good automobile. Solve this and the world is your market.”
Paul R. Williams
Ebony Magazine, August 1963
“Architecture is the most fascinating profession in the world and one which I thoroughly enjoy.”
Paul R. Williams
Ebony Magazine, August 1963

About Paul Revere Williams

Paul R. Williams was born in 1894 in Los Angeles to parents who migrated there from Tennessee in search of a better climate. He was orphaned in 1898, his parents having died of tuberculosis, and he was raised by foster parents. While not much is known about his upbringing, it’s evident that his family recognized the importance of a good education and instilled strong community values in him. Nevertheless, when he expressed his early interest in architecture while in high school, his counselor dissuaded him, asking, “Who ever heard of a Negro being an architect?”

Upon graduation, Williams worked multiple jobs, which exposed him to municipal, civic, and commercial design and taught him the importance of community. Williams opened his own architectural firm in 1922 after passing the American Institute of Architects (AIA) exam and obtaining his professional license. He became the first African American member of AIA in 1923.

By the late 1920s, Williams had established himself as a standout architect for upper-middle class residential homes. This was perfect timing for southern California, as the landscape was undergoing rapid development and wealthy clients wanted new homes in Beverly Hills, Hancock Park, Pacific Palisades, and Pasadena. By the 1940s, Williams had earned the nickname “architect to the stars.”

Among the strategies he adopted for working with White clients was his ability to draw upside-down. This unusual skill enabled him to sketch ideas out for his clients who, because of the norms of the day, dictated that they not sit side-by-side, but rather across from a Black man at a table.

In 2017, the AIA posthumously awarded Williams the AIA Gold Medal, their highest honor recognizing individuals who have made lasting impacts in the field of architecture.