Paul Revere Williams

            ...Architect to the Stars


Paul Revere Williams was a celebrated architect and an African-American.  During his career that combination just didn't seem possible.  But he defied convention and became one of the most important and influential designers in Los Angeles.   After becoming a licensed architect in 1921, a year later at 28, he started his own firm.  By this time he was also a member of Los Angeles's first City Planning Commission.  In 1923, Williams joined the Southern California chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), becoming the first African-American member of the national organization.  He would later become the first African-American elected to the AIA college of Fellows.


Williams designed houses in some of the finest areas of Los Angeles, including Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Pacific Palisades, Hancock Park, Pasadena, and San Marino.  And these were the very neighborhoods in which he wouldn't have been allowed to live in at the time. 


“He went a long way toward defining what style was for Los Angeles.”


Click on small photos to see enlargements

Some homes of the Stars...

By the end of the ‘20s, Williams had established a reputation as "a skilled and sophisticated designer for the upper middle class and the wealthy".  Los Angeles was growing and the Hollywood area was full of newly rich talent who wanted to build nice homes.  There wasn't enough money in these small commissions for the  major architects around town, but Williams took them.  And because  of his keen sense of design and proportion, he broke the color barrier of his day.   Below are some of his designs for the stars of Hollywood.    He was on his way to becoming "...architect to the stars".   You may not remember the names of some of the original owners but these homes are still in great demand by the new generation of stars. 


     Lucille Ball-Dezi Arnaz

Connie Stevens

Zazu Pitts

Debra Messing


          Betty Grable

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson

Barbara Stanwyck

Grace Moore


Bert Lahr    Lon Chaney 1930 John Charles Thomas Richard Arlen

Paul Revere Williams was born in Los Angeles in 1894 soon after his family had moved there.  Paul's father died of TB when he was two, and his mother died of the same disease two years later.  Paul and his brother, Chester, were split up and adopted.  Paul's foster mother, Mrs. Clarkson, encouraged his ability in art.  He studied at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design and at the LA branch of the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design Atelier, and went on to study architecture at the University of Southern California, in spite of the many people who told him that an African-American wouldn't make it in that field. 


Williams became a master of design, room arrangement, engineering, landscape, period architecture and more importantly, human behavior - the total package.  He was prolific and designs flowed from his drawing board for those elegant mansions, modest tract houses, apartments, hospitals, schools, hotels, churches, private clubs, public housing projects, department stores, funeral homes and even car dealerships.  Although he was renowned for masterful interpretations of the Georgian and Colonial American styles, he proved to be even more masterful at working in a diverse range of styles, moving effortlessly between period revivals and into sleek Modernist designs of the postwar era.



1943 Poster


Granddaughter's Book

Della and Paul

Williams Crypt   


Paul Williams was a family man.  He didn’t socialize with clients or bring work home. Home was the two-story California Modern he built in an integrated  suburb called Lafayette Square.  And once home, he rarely discussed his dazzling clientele. Weekends were for his wife Della (whom he had married in 1917), their two daughters and four grandchildren, to cook out in the back yard or experiment with new restaurants.  On grandkid still lives in the family home.


One of Williams’ many talents was his learned ability to draw upside down, allowing clients to see what was unfolding without having to constantly shift the position of the paper and interrupt the design process.  It also was a means to work with white clients who would be more comfortable sitting across from a black man rather than sitting next to him as he made revisions.  This type of skill helped elevate him above the crowd.  
Original Paul Williams drawings are scarce because his office records were destroyed by fire in  the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.


Drawing Drawing Drawing Drawing Drawing


Paul Williams Memphis Connection

Paul's father, Chester Stanley Williams and his mother Lila lived in Memphis.  Chester worked at the old Peabody Hotel on Main Street, as either a waiter or a porter.  His brother Chester was born in Memphis.  The Williams family moved to Los Angeles in 1894 and Paul was born shortly afterwards.  Years later when Paul was becoming an established architect, he designed a Los Angeles home for actor-comedian Danny Thomas.  And when Danny began to dream of building St. Jude's in Memphis, he wanted Williams to design it - and Paul Williams did design it - at no charge.    The hospital was dedicated in 1962 during weeklong celebrations.  On the tenth anniversary of the hospital’s opening Paul R. Williams was honored at a gala dinner in Memphis for his contributions to the hospital.  The St. Jude Project had been one of his last public commissions.  He retired a few years later and died in 1980 at the age of 85.   


Williams-Thomas St. Jude's St. Jude's Williams Dedication

< PAUL REVERE WILLIAMS - A Man and His Work:  Although Paul Williams career was realized largely in California, Memphis celebrates a connection.  In 2006, the Art Museum at the University of Memphis, AIA Memphis, Memphis NOMA, the University of Memphis Benjamin F. Hooks Institute for Social Change, and Departments of Art and Architecture, began collaboration on a multi-faceted project to bring Williams’ career back into focus.  Their mission is to increase knowledge about his work by encouraging scholarship, presenting exhibitions and publishing new research about his career.


"The Paul R. Williams Project is a collaboration of individuals and organizations in which AIA Memphis and the University of Memphis are the core institutions. The project began in early 2006 as an initiative of the Memphis chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in honor of the 150th anniversary of the AIA. The Memphis AIA 150 Committee developed two ideas, the first was a permanent downtown design center; the second was an exhibition or some form of public recognition of the life and work of Paul R. Williams (1894–1980), the first African American member of the AIA and the first to become a Fellow (FAIA).  The Paul R. Williams Project committee’s motivation was and is to help expand public knowledge about this American architect, whose extraordinary accomplishment was achieved against a background of pervasive racism in a particularly exclusionary profession."


Paul Williams Residential Architecture


Paul Williams designed over 3,000 homes and they're scattered all over the Los Angeles area.   They are highly prized - not only because of their history but because of their very comfortable and well-designed style.  Williams was amazing in that he could design in all styles of architecture.   He designed homes that incorporated features of English Tudor, French Norman, Spanish Colonial, Italianate, Georgian, and Regency.   And he was a master at all of them. 


<  A notable Williams design was used for exterior scenes of the Clampett mansion on television’s “The Beverly Hillbillies”. 

Many of the homes below would originally have been designed for stars or the wealthy of Los Angeles.   These properties continue to be purchased by the stars of today - often in private sales.  It has become a major status symbol to live in a "Paul Williams home".

Beverly Hills


Pasadena Home Pasadena Home Pasadena Home Los Feliz 1927

Los Feliz - - -

- - - -

Beverly Hills

- Silverlake -

- Paley Residence - Holmby Hills, 1946

Palm Springs Beverly Hills Windsor Square Beverly Hills 1931

Beverly Hills 1924             Glendale Hancock Park 1932 Holmby Hills 1944
Paul Williams Commercial Architecture

Paul Williams most famous commercial building is the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport.  He often worked with groups of architects to design some buildings and helped design the Los Angeles Federal Office Building, the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration and the Stanley Mosk Courthouse for the County of Los Angeles.   Williams was particularly noted for his designs of building interiors.  Frequently when a building was being renovated, he was much sought after to "re-design" the building.  He also designed government buildings in Mexico and Colombia.  In a career spanning 50 years and some 3,000 projects, Williams perfected a style at once elegant and relaxed, one that helped shape the California Southland when it was still emerging from the orange groves.


Theme Bldg - LAX      Founders Church... Hillside Memorial Park Saks 5th Av - Beverly Hills

Angelus Funeral Home First...Church La Concha Motel -Las Vegas Franz Hall - UCLA

YMCA - Los Angeles YMCA - Hollywood Music Corp of America Sunset Plaza Apartments

Chasen's Restaurant Perino's Restaurant LA County Courthouse Al Jolson Memorial Shrine Auditorium

Santa Monica 1928         

- Hotel Nutibara-1945 Kelly Music 1930 Golden State Ins. 1949



CREDITS: The "Historic-Memphis" Team would like to acknowledge and thank the following organizations and individuals for their contributions which helped make this page possible:  Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Public Library, Paul Revere Williams Project, Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Flyer, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Memphis Heritage,  Joe Spake,  and many other individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on individual photos.  


 Historic Memphis Website