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MODERNIST MONDAY: Paul Revere Williams

Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with quick, interesting facts. Our pick this month is designer to the stars, boundary-breaking Paul Revere Williams.
You can read more about Paul Revere Williams and fellow pioneering black architects in our blog post, “Celebrating 3 Black Architects Who Shaped Modern Architecture.”

(banner photo of Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport via Flickr, Eric Salard)

As one of the first certified Black architects in U.S. history and one of the most prominent modernists on the West Coast, Los Angeles-born Paul R. Williams grew up as the only African-American person in his school. He was adopted by a white couple after he lost his parents as a child.

Artwork depicting Paul Revere Williams’ career

NARA Archive

In college, at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, Williams found a love for planning and architecture. For a few years, he spent time as a landscape architect, and after graduating from the University of Southern California, earned his architect certification in 1921. He won an architecture competition soon after and then opened his own office. However, he had trouble gaining popularity due to racial prejudice.

Williams learned to draft “upside-down” from across the table when presenting to clients because many of them would not sit next to a Black man. In 1923, Williams became the first Black member of the AIA, and a few years later was awarded the AIA Award of Merit by his peers. Over his long career, Williams designed more than two thousand private homes, many of them for celebrities in the Southern California area. In the 50s, he designed now-iconic homes for Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck.

Ball and Arnaz’s Palm Springs home via Julius Shulman, © J. Paul Getty Trust, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Sinatra residence via Merge Studios 1956, Mott-Merge Collection, California State Library

Williams designed homes for hundreds of other notable figures in the arts, as well as many buildings around Los Angeles, such as an addition to the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (in collaboration with fellow architects Charles Luckman, William Pereira, and Welton Becket). The unfortunate truth was that the land he built many homes on was segregated, and Black people were prevented from purchasing there.

The Beverly Hills Hotel

Wikimedia Commons, Alan Light

Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport

Flickr, Eric Salard

During the housing crisis, Williams also worked on charitable projects such as the first post-war low-income housing in Washington, DC, and another in Southeast Los Angeles, creating homes for people who may otherwise not have had them.

Langston Terrace, a housing project in Washington, DC

Wikimedia Commons, Smallbones

In 1955, Williams was hired to convert a Woolworths department store in Manhattan into a bank, where he subsequently stored many of his files, drawings, and archives. During unrest in the city years later, the bank was burned, and most of Williams’ files were presumed gone forever. His granddaughter curated the remaining files and they were acquired by the Getty Research Institute and USC School of Architecture.

The Broadway Federal Bank, formerly a Woolworth’s

In 2020, forty years after his passing in 1980, USC architecture dean Milton Curry shared that the drawings and plans in the files now serve as important developments in the understanding of twentieth-century modernism.

Discover More Great Architects and Designers Using These Resources

Black Artists and Designers Guild

The National Organization of Minority Architects

Black Interior Designers Network

Directory of African American Architects

Harvard African American Design Nexus


“Paul Revere Williams, FAIA,”; “A Trailblazing Black Architect Who Helped Shape L.A.,”; “PAUL REVERE WILLIAMS, FAIA (1894-1980),”; “Paul R. Williams,” Wikipedia


NARA Archive via Merge Studios 1956, Mott-Merge Collection, California State Library

Wikimedia Commons, Alan Light

Flickr, Eric Salard

Wikimedia Commons, Smallbones

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