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.