The archive of renowned architect Paul Revere Williams, which documents the entirety of his career, is now being jointly acquired by Williams’ alma mater, the USC School of Architecture, and Getty Research Institute, who will work together to make the archive accessible to students and other researchers and make possible many future exhibitions, programs, and publications about Williams.
The archive has been meticulously cared for by Karen Elyse Hudson, Williams’ granddaughter, who has published extensively on his work. Although many believe that Williams’ archive was destroyed in a fire that consumed Broadway Federal Savings & Loan during the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest, in truth a Paul Revere Williams landmark was lost—he had renovated the building in 1955—and some business records were destroyed. Most of the extensive archive was in a different location and is in excellent condition.
With records from his early residential commissions during Los Angeles’ housing boom of the 1920s to landmark mid-century civic structures, the archive includes approximately 35,000 plans, 10,000 original drawings, blueprints, hand-colored renderings, vintage photographs, correspondence, and other materials.
Williams was the most significant African American architect of the 20th century, with especially strong ties to Southern California and the city of Los Angeles. A native Angeleno, he was born in 1894 and orphaned by the age of four, Williams contributed greatly to the cultural landscape and design of Los Angeles. He was the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), its first African American Fellow, and ultimately its first African American Gold Medalist.
During his career, Williams overcame numerous indignities in his professional life because he was African American. For instance, he learned to draw upside down in order to sketch for clients from across the table—for the benefit of any white clients who might have been uneasy sitting next to an African American. He also toured construction sites with hands clasped behind his back because, from experience, he could never be sure every person at a construction site would shake a Black man’s hand. The ability to work within these conditions adds further resonance to the enduring significance of Williams’ legacy, which has long been part of iconic Los Angeles.
Williams’ prolific career spanned nearly six decades and over 3,000 projects. He was a master of Late Moderne design, known for combining long horizontal lines and sleek curving forms, yet fully versed in other architectural styles. His early work was primarily residential, designing legendary homes for leaders in business and entertainment such as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, Frank Sinatra, the E. L. Cord and Paley families, and Cary Grant. Though his later career privileged commercial, institutional, and public building projects, residential design was a perennial element of his work.
While Williams had a lasting impact on Southern California, he also worked on a large number of national and international projects, which notably included the 14-story addition to the Hotel Granada in Bogota and the design of the Hotel Nutibara in Medellín, both in Colombia. He was associate architect on the U.N. Building in Paris, and Langston Terrace in Washington, D.C., the first federally sponsored public housing in the country. However, Southern California was always his chief building ground.
Many of his projects—such as The Music Corporation of America (MCA) headquarters (1939), the renovation of the Ambassador Hotel (1949), Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company Building (1949), refurbishments and additions to the Beverly Hills Hotel (1940s–1970s), the Los Angeles County Courthouse (1951), Hillside Memorial Park (1951), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) (1960), Westwood Medical Center (1960–62), and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (1968)—became modernist fixtures of the Los Angeles cityscape, some resonating strongly within Los Angeles’ African American community. Golden State Mutual Life Insurance was the largest African American-owned insurance company in the western United States, holding the most significant institutional collection of African American art, while the First AME Church was home to the oldest Black congregation in Los Angeles.
Williams was the chief architect for the Pueblo del Rio neighborhood, located at 52nd Street and Long Beach Avenue in South Los Angeles and built to house African American defense industry workers in 1940. This mid-century project was designed by theo Southeast Housing Architects, which included Richard Neutra, Gordon Kaufman, Adrian Wilson, and the firm of Wurdeman & Becket.
Williams retired in 1973, having received numerous accolades, including the AIA’s Award of Merit for the MCA Building in1939, and the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for his outstanding contributions as an architect and work with Los Angeles’s Black community in 1953; in 2017, he was posthumously awarded USC Architecture’s Distinguished Alumni Award. He died in 1980, at the age of 85.
Getty Research Institute and USC School of Architecture are co-owners of the archive and will work together to extend the architect’s through research and scholarship as well as exhibitions and programming. The archive will be housed at Getty, which will oversee processing and conservation of the materials, which are in excellent condition. An extensive digitization effort will take several years and will ultimately make most of the archive accessible to scholars and others. At Getty, the Paul Revere Williams archive is a crucial part of our architectural holdings, especially progressive Southern California architects, as well as the African American Art History Initiative, which focuses on the postwar art and cultural legacy of artists of African American and African diasporic heritage.
This archive will be made available for research after being processed and cataloged. Sign up for the Getty Research Institute’s Email Newsletter to find out more.