From LAX to Frank Sinatra's house, Paul R. Williams' architecture defined mid-century California

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Paul Revere Williams was part of the team that designed the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport. Photo courtesy of Julius Shulman Photographic Archive/The Getty Research Institute.

For decades, systemic racism has infused infrastructure, housing, and economic opportunities nationwide. Few Black Americans had any say in the design of their surroundings. But Paul Revere Williams did. 

Williams was the architect of hundreds of buildings that shaped LA, including the LA County Courthouse. He worked with Pereira & Luckman on the Theme Building at LAX airport.

He also designed private residences for celebrities of Hollywood’s Golden age, including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz.

Photographer Janna Ireland tells KCRW's Frances Anderton, “He designed buildings for very wealthy people, but he also designed public housing projects. He designed tract homes for black GIs returning from World War II. He designed homes for middle class families. He published two books of floor plans that people could use to build their own homes without having to hire him, but to have a Paul Williams house.”

Williams also taught himself to draw upside down so he could sit across from his clients — in case they did not want to sit next to him.

Now the Getty Research Institute and USC School of Architecture have acquired an archive of his work. 

That includes about 35,000 plans, 10,000 original drawings, blueprints, hand-colored renderings, vintage photographs, correspondence, and other materials relating to both built and unbuilt work.

The archive is to be processed and catalogued, which will take a lot of time. Then anyone can make an appointment to see it. Much of the material will be accessible online as well.


Portrait of Paul R. Williams, 1952, Julius Shulman. Gelatin silver print. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. 


El Mirador Hotel, Palm Springs, Paul. R. Williams architect, Built 1952-53, photography by Julius Shulman, 1953, Gelatin Silver Print, © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles


Beverly Hills Hotel Addition, Beverly Hills, built 1949–50, Paul R. Williams (architect); photography 1950, Julius Shulman. Gelatin silver print. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz House, Palm Springs, built 1954–55, Paul R. Williams (architect); photography 1955, Julius Shulman. Gelatin silver print. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz House, Palm Springs, Paul R. Williams architect, Built 1954-55, photography by Julius Shulman, 1955, Gelatin Silver Print, © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


Competition Motors, Culver City, 1961, Paul R. Williams (architect); photography 1965, Julius Shulman. Gelatin silver print. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


El Mirador Hotel, Palm Springs, Paul. R. Williams architect, Built 1952-53, photography by Julius Shulman, 1953, Gelatin Silver Print, © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


Church of Religious Science, Los Angeles, 1957, Paul R. Williams (architect); photography 1965, Julius Shulman. Gelatin silver print. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


Nellie Hirsch House, 10800 Ambazac Way, Bel Air, built 1933–34, Paul R. Williams (architect); photography 1982, Julius Shulman. Gelatin silver print. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz House, Palm Springs, Paul R. Williams architect, Built 1954-55, photography by Julius Shulman, 1955, Gelatin Silver Print, © J. Paul Getty Trust. Photo courtesy of Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

 

Credits

Guest:
Frances Anderton - Host, 'DnA: Design & Architecture' - @FrancesAnderton

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel