A man of many styles breaking through the racial barriers, Paul Revere Williams (18, Feb 1894 – 23, Jan 1980) was the first African-American architect with an impressive body of work. Each work of his has a distinct personality to itself, given the same attention to the users of his creations. His ability to draw garnered attention from his foster parents, which then later ignited his passion for architecture. The only African-American architect from the ‘Los Angeles School of Art and Design’ and Los Angeles branch of ‘New York Beaux-Arts Institue of Design,’ he went on to design impressive creations throughout the U.S.A.
1. 28th Street YMCA (1926)
This building remains one of the few founded, designed by and for African-Americans, especially during the racial segregation period that prevailed in the U.S.A. This Spanish Colonial Revival style building was a safe place for them to partake in their right to celebrate, providing recreational facilities for African-Americans in these tough times. Paul Williams’s career launched perfectly from there onwards.
The Spanish Colonial Revival style, which was spreading wildly in California, the Beaux-Arts sensibilities are well gelled with the colonial carvings, shingles, and exterior stucco, giving the YMCA building an edge over other structures around.
2. First AME Church of Los Angeles (1968)
The construction of this church was given to Paul Williams after the original church (located in Azusa St.) was razed down. This church, the oldest founded by African-Americans, is adorned by a zigzag porch welcoming the visitors, white sitting elevated over an undulated plot. This structure houses a community youth centre, private chapel, administrative offices, church parlour, classrooms, library and ladies’ room. Decorative murals are painted on the facade between the western bay add to the structure’s beauty.
This Late Modern structure fits within the fabric of the city, which is a hodge-podge of Los Angeles’s soul of architecture.
3. The Superior Courthouse of Los Angeles (1958)
The original building established in 1891 was destroyed by an earthquake. Many architects submitted their proposals for the new courthouse, among which Paul Williams’s firm Associated Architects won. The bas-relief of Lady Justice adorned a large blank facade on this business-like judicial building, which is a welcome departure from the classical elements usually found in courts. This court was a complex building unit including two courts; one for the municipal and the other for the superior court. This International Style building was coherent with the vision of what a court of Los Angeles would look like in a city.
4. Beverly Wilshire Hotel (1928)
During the under-developed days of Beverly Hills, Hollywood had just gotten the attention of celebrities. It was during this time Paul Williams was commissioned by Walter G. McGarty to construct a hotel adjacent to Beverly Hills Auto Speedway. This nine-story building was given a French Renaissance treatment, the interior displaying the Californian representation of classical interior elements, elaborate use of wood, marble, rich furnishings and decoratives.
The museum-like royal exuberance persists despite the passage of time. This hotel plays host to celebrities and movie shootings as well. This Beverly Wilshire hotel is to Hollywood what Taj Hotel is to Bollywood.
5. La Concha Motel (1961)
Another example of a Googie structure is La Concha Motel. The client wanted to make the building eye-catching to grab travellers’ attention, set a stylistic statement, as iconic as the neon sign of Las Vegas strip. Paul Williams incorporated the style into this building masterfully despite the backlash Googie architecture was receiving from intellectuals during those days. This project was constructed on a shoestring budget using hyperbolic paraboloid concrete shell, glass, and steel.
This structure is now preserved in Neon Museum, courtesy of conservation specialists and architectural historians.
6. Sinatra Residence (1962)
When Williams was roped in for making a bachelor pad, Frank Sinatra instructed him to make something simple to live in and gave a free hand in designing. Williams used this opportunity to the fullest in this soon-to-be iconic location. Only single-storied houses were allowed in Bowmont Drive, where Sinatra bought the land. With this in mind, Williams made a Mid-Century Modernistic structure that stood gracefully on sloping land. This structure had the bold presence of Japanese Modernism, which is further accented by oriental decoratives and furniture chosen by Norma Williams Harvey, daughter of Paul Williams.
7. Guardian Angel Cathedral (1963)
Guardian Angel Cathedral is located near the iconic Encore Las Vegas hotel. The use of the A-shaped frame by Williams gave this structure a sense of approaching divinity. The visitor is welcomed by a large mosaic of Guardian Angel, which was designed by Edith Piczek. The Holy Family resides within a tall 4-sided spire, topped with a cross on the cathedral’s front left. With 6 triangular niches bisecting the A-frame on each side, the light cascades onto the aisle, leading you to the altar with a suspended crucifix. The standard elements of a cathedral, like mosaics and stained glass windows, added relatability to the modern structure.
8. Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building (1949)
After the Golden State Mutual Company outgrew its original office in Central Ave, Williams was roped in to build a new building. This 5-storied steel and concrete Late Modernist structure accommodated 300 employees, which perfectly fit the company’s operations. The building flanked its three faces onto the intersection, flaunting the iconic vertical strip windows. This building was made when the site (South Western Ave) was touted to be a place of financial importance.
This structure also housed a basement and mezzanine level, an auditorium with 400 seats and a cafeteria with a serving capacity of 150 people. The strip windows in the central building were covered with sunshades due to excess heat. After a recent renovation in 2015, these sunshades were removed, giving back its classic look.
9. The Beverly Hills Hotel (1947 onwards, additional works)
The moniker ‘Hollywood architect’ started being coined after his works were included in Hollywood. A long series serenaded by palm trees led celebrities and visitors to the great works in Beverly Hills Hotel. His Mission-style additions to the hotel include the change in logo of the hotel, addition of ‘Crescent Wing,’ the ‘Fountain Coffee Shop,’ ‘Polo Lounge’ and many other such creations. This added value to the already famous establishment and people in the architectural scene.
The Paul Williams lounge was later shifted to the first floor later in time due to renovation. The materials used were placed and reused exactly in its original intended position, preserving the iconic work of Paul Williams.
10. Nutibara Plaza Conference Hotel (1945)
Nutibara Hotel is the first grand hotel in Medellin. Surrounded by Berrio Park Metro Station, museum and many places of cultural (and architectural) significance, this second-largest city needed another modern hotel that would offer greater aesthetics.
People who were not aware of Paul Williams got a taste of his vision for the city. His style of American-Modern architecture is a treat to behold for the people and the skyline of the city as well. His respect for the local traditions shines out in this structure. He built a concrete water-way to preserve the river. With minor landscaping on the water-way, this became the iconic entrance for the hotel.
11. UCLA Botany Building (1959)
Paul William was appointed to build a campus building for Botany, which masterfully incorporated the existing botanical garden with the structure. He also built a deck that physically extended over the garden. This inclusive design was a practice that Williams created while designing homes for people. The large horizontal strip window illuminated the space using natural light and also opened the users to nature outside, connected to their subjects. Dr. Mildred Mathias, then vice-principal of the Botany department, summed the structure’s motive; the students can look for it themselves outside, rather than looking in the textbook.
12. Jay Paley Residence (1935)
Despite the Great Depression, Hollywood and its residents were able to ride smoothly through the tough times. Jay Paley, an actor, retired in 42 and wanted a recluse place to stay in. Paul Williams design combined traditional Georgian elements and a modernistic look to create this 20 roomed beauty. Partnering with Shellenberger, (a successful interior decorator and a frequent associate of Paul Williams at the time) he created a Georgian-Mission style estate, which seamlessly showed off the actor’s lifestyle and impressing landscaping with elan.
13. Founders’ Church of Religious Science (1932)
Dr. Ernest Holmes established the Founders’ Church of Religious Science based on his teachings in the book ‘The Science of the Mind’ (1926). Williams sketched a concept on Ernest’s request. He drew an ellipse, taking the form of Ernest’s philosophy of all-encompassing care, love, and compassion towards others. Surrounded by a lush garden, the Church of religious science holds 1000 people and an additional 310 people on balcony seating. The auditorium is 100 feet wide and the dome is 4 stories high from the auditorium floor level. The entire design speaks for Dr. Ernest’s gospel of and acceptance.
14. Garvey Luella Residence (1929)
Unlike her steel magnate husband, Luella Garvey was not a flamboyant personality, stayed away from Reno city’s divorce and gambling industry. What she loved were impressive workmanship and beautiful gardens, which Williams took seriously into consideration when he designed this residence.
This two-storied French Classical Revival style building has a beautiful touch of intricate ironwork, which is sophisticated despite the rustic effect. With typical Californian architectural designs including open balconies, brick floored patio and French doors, Williams gave Luella her unique living space that made a place in Hollywood’s living scape.
15. Franz Hall II, UCLA (1959)
This structure had been of great importance for UCLA since the demand for psychologists grew post World War II. This upgrade also ensured the doubled acceptance of students for psychology at UCLA.
Paul Williams designed the Psychology Department for UCLA, keeping in mind the minimalist approach towards the university campus design. Made of steel and cement, this eleven-storied structure is the tallest silhouette in the campus, costing $4.8 million. The cube-shaped design of 100 feet square has an exterior reinforced concrete grill system with glass fillers. This grill works as load support for the floors as well.