A trailblazing career in architecture

Nick Myall
19 May 2017

Paul Revere Williams put as much attention to detail into public housing and homes for low income people as he did for a mansion in a place he did not live

World Architecture News was present at the USC Architectural Guild 58th Annual Dinner honouring Paul Revere Williams, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles on 3.5.17.

Addressing the members of the Guild, Dean Qingyun Ma said, “Paul Revere Williams is not just significant for his powerful body of work, but also for his trailblazing career in architecture, during which time he became the first African-American member of the AIA, as well as the AIA’s College of Fellows. Most recently, he became the first African-American to win the AIA Gold Medal which is the AIA’s highest annual honour" 

The USC Architectural Guild published a tribute book for the occasion to shed some light on some of his most famous projects and a brief biography, from which we collected these excerpts: 

"Born in Los Angeles in 1894, Paul Revere Williams grew up with the city. Even thought he was advised by his teacher at high school against pursuing a career in architecture, Mr. Williams did not give up and opened his own practice in the early 1920s when Southern California’s real estate market was booming. His reputation grew and his practice expanded. 

California’s first licenced African-American architect, he designed nearly 3,000 projects around the world, from homes to churches, public buildings to retail stores, hotels to weekend cabins... his work spanned a prolific, amazing remarkable career. Known as “architect to the stars”, everywhere you turn, in every neighbourhood, Paul Williams has left his mark and he is an inspiration for future generations. 

His buildings are now considered landmarks and include: Los Angeles International Airport Theme Building, MCA, Saks Fifth Avenue, Palm Springs Tennis Club and Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building. The private residences he designed for leaders in business and entertainment became legendary: actor Bert Lehr, comedians Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, dancer Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, popular entertainer Frank Sinatra and the entrepreneurial Cord and Paley families." 

Mr. Williams’ granddaughter Karen Hudson spoke at the event at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She described her grandfather as a mentor to all his grandchildren:  “He never said us be an architect. He never said do what I do. He said whatever you choose to do, do it with excellence and use your imagination for creative problem solving which is something we try to teach future generations and future leaders.“

Speaking of Mr. Williams’s work Karen explained:  “When we see those curves, when we see the attention to detail, he wanted to draw well before he became known. He wanted people to know that he wants to put as much attention to detail into public housing and homes for low income people as he did for a mansion in a place he did not live.”   

The USC Architectural Guild 58th Annual Dinner was also a farewell for Dean Qingyun Ma who completed his ten years of leadership and inspiration to USC’s alumni. 

USC School of Architecture will welcome new dean Milton Curry on July 1, 2017.

Katerina Hojgrova

US West Coast Correspondent

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