Paul R. Williams 1894 - 1980
Paul Revere Williams was born in Los Angeles on February 18, 1894. He was placed in foster care at age two after his parents died. His foster mother devoted herself to his education. Williams’ dream was to become an architect but a high school teacher advised him against it because as an African-American he would have difficulty attracting clients in the white community and the black community could not provide enough work. Paul was not deterred and did not give up his goal.
He attended the University of Southern California until 1919, earning academic accolades and recognition. In 1922, Williams opened his own architectural firm. He became the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923. During the 1920's and 1930's he had great success designing homes for wealthy clients in Bel Air, Brentwood and Beverly Hills.
He was sought after by entertainment industry leaders and became know as “Architect to the Hollywood Stars.” He designed homes for Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz, Cary Grant, Groucho Marx, Humphrey Bogart, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Tyrone Power and many other celebrities.
Residential designs were a main part of his firm but he also became famous for his commercial designs. During his five decade career, he designed approximately 3,000 buildings, served on many commissions and was active in political and social organizations. In 1957, he became the first African-American elected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
Among his most well-known buildings are the Beverly Hills Hotel (he gave it an iconic pink exterior and loopy signage) , the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles County Courthouse, Union Station, Saks Fifth Avenue and he was on the team of architects and engineers that designed the futuristic Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport. He also designed St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital pro bono as a favor to his good friend, Danny Thomas.
Image from 1943 Office of War poster
In 1936 Barbara Stanwyck commissioned the design of an English manor with French Normandy and Tudor Revival stylistic elements for her Marwyck Ranch home. Paul R. Williams and Robert Finkelhor both contributed to the architectural design at Marwyck Ranch. Research into the exact role of each architect is ongoing. The residence exemplifies the variety of Period Revival styles used in Williams' and Finkelhor's residential designs. The 6,000 square foot, two-story home which sits on 9.47 acres in Northridge, California, has four fireplaces, five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a basement, a three car garage, swimming pool with underground filtering system, an oversized tennis court and countless unique design features. According to the 1937 LA City Building and Safety permit, which cost $67.00, the valuation of the proposed work was listed as $22,000.00.
The property is now owned and managed by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The non-profit, Friends of Oakridge, is currently raising funds to begin the restoration and preservation of this historic landmark.