A Tribute to Paul Revere Williams

By Samantha Herzog

In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to pay a special tribute to architect Paul Revere Williams.  

Beverly Hills Hotel Exterior

His granddaughter Karen E. Hudson wrote Paul R. Williams, Architect; A Legacy of Style – a biography and survey of his work, and a favorite in our IKB library.  Best known for designing buildings like the Beverly Hills Hotel, The Theme Building at LAX and the residences of Hollywood stars like Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra, Williams persevered through tremendous obstacles to become an inspiring designer and a dedicated public servant. 

Beverly Hills Hotel, known affectionately as "The Pink Lady"

Born in 1894 and orphaned at the age of 4, Williams had virtually all odds against a future as a prominent architect.  He was the only black student at his elementary school.  

Paul Revere Williams. 

Williams wrote,

"Having grown up playing with white children, without being conscious of the stigma attached to my color, nothing prepared me for the shock of discovery that someday those children who then accepted me as one of their own would learn to treat me with a strange mixture of patronage and contempt, intolerance and condescension."

From Paul R. Williams, Architect by Karen E. Hudson

He went to Polytechnic High School and chose a course of study in Architecture.  He continued his studies at the Los Angeles School of Art and took evening classes at an atelier of the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design.  After 3 years of study, he won the Beaux-Arts Medal – the first of many awards and prizes that would garnish his robust design career. He then enrolled in an Architectural Engineering program at the University of Southern California and attended 3 different Art schools for intensive study in Interior Design, Color Harmony and Rendering. 

Beverly Hills Hotel, Exterior, 1940s.

Beverly Hills Hotel, Rodeo Room, 1950.

Beverly Hills Hotel, Lanai Room, 1950

Beverly Hills Hotel, Dining Room, 1940s.

 “From the early 1920s on, William established an impressive array of “firsts” as an African-American architect. He was the first to become a member of the American institute of Architects, in 1923 and, in 1957, the first elected as one of its Fellows. From 1920 on, various mayors of Los Angeles appointed him to the city’s planning commissions as well as to a wide variety of other public bodies.  At the state level, he served on the California Housing Commission, and the California Redevelopment Commission, and the California Beautiful Commission. On the national scene, presidents from Herbert Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower selected him to serve on numerous commissions. By the time he retired from practice in 1973, Paul R. Williams could look back on a memorable life, both for his substantial contribution to twentieth-century American architecture and for his stance as an impressive role model for the black community, since he had undoubtedly become one of America’s most successful black professionals.”  

From Paul R. Williams, Architect by Karen E. Hudson

Williams Suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel

Terrace in the Williams Suite

Louis Cass, one of the original underwriters of the Automobile Club of Southern California had been a classmate of Williams’ and offered him a commission to design his new home in 1921 in the hills of Flintridge– which allowed Williams to open his own office. 

Louis Cass Residence Exterior

E.L. Cord Residence Exterior

Williams wrote, 

“Virtually everything pertaining to my professional life, during those early years, was influenced by my need to offset race prejudice, by my effort to force white people to consider me as an individual rather than as a member of a race.”

From Paul R. Williams, Architect by Karen E. Hudson

Lloyd Bacon Residence, Exterior. Los Angeles, CA

Lloyd Bacon Residence, Stair.

“Foremost to all Paul Williams designs was his perfectionism and attention to detail. He put just as much thought and effort into a ten-thousand-dollar home as he did into a major estate.” 

From Paul R. Williams, Architect by Karen E. Hudson

Arrowhead Springs Hotel, Exterior

Arrowhead Springs Hotel, 1940. Photo by Maynard L. Parker

Arrowhead Springs Hotel, Lobby, 1940.

Arrowhead Springs Hotel, Lobby Elevator, 1940.

Arrowhead Springs Hotel, Cocktail Lounge, 1940.

Thank you for being such an incredible architect and trailblazer. You were out of this world. 

Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).