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Paul R. Williams, American Architect

 

You may not know the name of Paul R. Williams, but if you've ever been to Los Angeles, you've probably admired his work. Born in the City of Angels on February 18, 1894, young Williams faced extreme hardships early in his life, losing both parents to tuberculosis by the age of four. After a stint in foster care, Williams was adopted by a family friend who recognized her precocious intelligence. As a young man, he fell in love with the architecture of Los Angeles, but was discouraged from studying architecture by his teachers, who warned him, "Your own people can't stand you, and white clients will hire you." But won't take it."

Fortunately, Williams didn't listen. He enrolled at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design before earning a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Southern California, becoming the first certified black architect in the western United States and the first black member of the American Institute of Architects. He got his big break when he worked under renowned architect John C. Austin, who is known for his work at Griffith Observatory and Los Angeles City Hall.


Although Williams flew farther than her teachers imagined, she was right that her race made her wealthy white clients uncomfortable. He actually learned to draft upside down because they preferred to sit across from him rather than beside him. American magazine essay "I'm a Negro" in 1937,


Williams was always adaptable, giving him the flexibility to design in many different styles at many different price points and earning him descriptors such as "master of creative eclecticism". One of their most recognizable innovations was to place the kitchen at the front of the house rather than at the back so that the dining area could open to the backyard, a feature not common before their time and enjoyed by those customers. Those prone to throwing house parties or simply enjoying the garden while they ate.

His most iconic building is probably the LAX Theme Building, which is located in the heart of Los Angeles International Airport and can often be seen on TV and on the silver screen. After he died in 1980 at the age of 85 due to complications from diabetes, his funeral was held in a church he designed himself. He received many awards throughout his life, but his greatest honor came well after his death when the American Institute of Architects presented him with its Gold Medal in 2017, celebrating him "for his pioneering career [that] encouraged others to bridge the gap of historical partisanship."

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