Travelers from all over the world are familiar with the Los Angeles International airport building, with its iconic, space-themed, open and curved arches. However, few are aware it was designed by the brilliant African American architect, Paul Revere Williams.
Born in Los Angeles in 1894, Williams was orphaned at an early age and raised in foster care. As a high school student, he was discouraged by a teacher from pursuing his dream—a career in architecture. He was told he would “have difficulty attracting clients from California’s larger White community and the Black community could not provide enough work.” Fortunately, Williams was confident in his skills and never gave up on his dream.
In 1923, Williams opened his own practice and became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Over the years, his reputation grew. Included among his landmark designs are Beverly Hills’ Music Corporation of America building, Saks Fifth Avenue, Palm Springs Tennis Club, the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance building, the Arrowhead Springs Hotel Resort, Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles County Courthouse, Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor Memorial and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, to name a few. To view a comprehensive list and pictures of his works visit http://www.paulrwilliamsproject.org/gallery/ .
During his fifty-year career, Williams designed thousands of buildings, including private residences for some of America’s icons. In addition to being a prolific architect, Williams was very civically engaged and served on several municipal, state, and federal commissions. Williams was also actively involved in numerous political and social organizations.
Among his most noted contributions was the time and effort he dedicated to furthering the welfare of young people, particularly African American youth, not only in California but across the nation.
San Bernardino County Assessor Bob Dutton has made it his mission to showcase a weekly video on an historical topic. This week, he is highlighting the life and works of Williams in a recent historical archives video: https://www.facebook.com/OfficialBobDutton/videos/10154504665161681/. The video is also available at the ARC Blog: https://sbcountyarcblog.org/2017/06/15/southern-californias-renowned-architect/.
The Paul Revere Williams Project—A Man and His Work provided source information for this article. More information about Williams is available at http://www.available aulrwilliamsproject.org/.Feature photo: Paul R. Williams, 1951. Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library