Born in Los Angeles, Paul R. Williams was a pioneering African American architect who practiced mainly in Southern California and designed more than 2,500 buildings over the course of his career. His early teachers discouraged Williams from pursuing a career in architecture, afraid that racism would prevent him from becoming successful. Williams, however, was persistent and is today celebrated for both his outstanding achievement as an architect and for his perseverance as an African American within a field dominated by white people. One of the best known anecdotes about Williams is that he mastered the skill of drafting upside-down, because white clients were unwilling to be directly next to him as he shared his plans.
Williams first attended the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, and went on to receive his degree for architectural engineering in 1919 from the University of Southern California. From 1921 to 1924, he worked for John C. Austin rising to the position of chief draftsman before deciding to establish his own firm. During this period, in 1923, Williams became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects.
Williams was incredibly versatile as a designer. Not only did he design luxury mansions for numerous celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lon Chaney, and Barbara Stanwyk, he also worked on early Post-war federal housing projects including Langston Terrace in Washington D.C. and Pueblo del Rio in Los Angeles. Other major commissions, among many, included the Hollywood YMCA, the Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue, the Shrine Auditorium, the Botany Building at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and the tomb of The Jazz Singer star Al Jolson.
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