What's in a name?

Paul Revere Williams and Paul Richmond Williams

Examples of the present form at Bullock's Wilshire. Photo by Howard J. Mott, 1929

Little is known about Paul Richmond Williams, the proprietor of Paul R. Williams Creative Furniture. Often confused with trailblazing African-American architect Paul Revere Williams given the coincidence of their names, timeframe and overlapping collaborations, Paul Richmond Williams was actually four years younger, born in Los Angeles in 1898. A veteran of the First World War, Williams was part of the Los Angeles cultural scene that included Pauline and Rudolf Schindler and photographer Edward Weston. According to census data from 1930, Williams operated Paul R. Williams Creative Furniture out of his family’s home on Maple Avenue in Glendale, Los Angeles.

The present lot was designed especially for the department store by Paul Revere Williams, fabricated by Paul Richmond Williams, and bears both the workshop label and the original Bullock’s tag. 

A frequent collaborator of Richard Neutra, Williams co-designed at least two pieces with the architect including a dining chair with wooden legs and leatherette seat and the well-known Camel table—Williams is listed on the patent from 1941. He was also noted for his work in plywood (census data from 1950 describes him as owning a plywood factory), which would have been vital for fabricating many of Neutra’s laminated wood designs. In addition to his work for Neutra, Williams designed and realized works for Modernist architectural firm Webster and Wilson, collaborated with Rudolph Schindler and manufactured furnishings for Bullock’s Wilshire, the palatial Art Deco department store designed by Jock Peters and Eleanor LeMaire. 

Making for what is now an incredible coincidence, Peters and LeMaire brought in architect Paul Revere Williams to design furnishings for Bullock’s. The designers held Williams in high regard, and entrusted the highly skilled draftsman with developing stylish seating for the splendid Art Deco interior. For fabrication, Williams turned to the other Paul R., who manufactured the architect’s designs in his Glendale workshop. The present lot, a slight and elegant side chair in walnut plywood with blush upholstery, was designed especially for the department store by Paul Revere Williams, fabricated by Paul Richmond Williams, and bears both the workshop label and the original Bullock’s tag. 

The following year, Peters and LeMaire would again look to Paul Revere Williams to design, this time for the L.P. Hollander Company Store in New York. In a letter to Williams dated April 2nd 1930, LeMaire asks for chairs “that are fine enough for sophisticated New Yorkers.” Among the array of designs delivered by Williams for the project was a chair remarkably similar to his model #36—this time with an open back—featuring the same slender legs and plywood construction. To the benefit of historians, Williams’s designs for the Hollander store were carried out by the Vernon Fixtures and Cabinet Company of Los Angeles. 

Wright would like to thank Steven Keylon, Eric Evavold and Christopher Long for their assistance in cataloging this work. 

Bullocks Wilshire, c. 1936

Paul Revere Williams

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.

Auction Results Paul Revere Williams