University of Memphis Is Building an Education Archive on the Career of African-American Architect Paul Revere Williams

The University of Memphis has established a new research project and exhibition to honor the work of architect Paul Revere Williams. Williams died in 1980 and much of his work was lost in a fire during the 1992 Los Angeles riot. The new effort is an attempt to compile educational and other resources to document Williams’ contributions to the field of architecture.

Born in 1894, Paul Revere Williams was orphaned at the age of 3. As a young boy he decided he wanted to design homes and buildings. But because there were almost no opportunities for an African-American architect, his high school teachers tried to discourage his pursuit of architecture. But Williams persisted in his dream and studied at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York City and at the University of Southern California.

In 1922 Williams opened his own firm in Los Angeles. The following year he was the first African American to become a member of the American Institute of Architects. Williams became known as “the architect of the stars.” He designed homes for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Cary Grant, Anthony Quinn, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lon Chaney, Tyrone Power, and Frank Sinatra. In addition to homes, Williams designed the Los Angeles County Courthouse, terminals at Los Angeles International Airport, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and many other buildings.

In order not to offend the racial sensitivities of white clients, Williams learned to draw upside down. That way he would not have to lean over the backs of his white clients when showing or revising architectural plans.

Readers seeking more information on the new research project may click here.