Celebrate the Paul Williams legacy in Hancock Park and Windsor Square

| January 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

The release of the new book on Paul R. Williams, Angel City Press’ newest volume in its “Master Architects of Southern California 1920-1940” series, is an exciting start to 2021’s African American history month.

This new work by Bret Parsons, Marc Appleton and Stephen Gee celebrates the life and work of Los Angeles’ and perhaps the United States’ most renowned African American architect. Certainly of his generation. While Williams is often associated with Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Brentwood, the architect also designed a substantial body of work in and around Hancock Park over the course of four decades.

Paul Williams’ first house in the community was in Windsor Square, 524 Lorraine Blvd., built for financier Frederick Leistikow and his wife Esther and their five daughters.

At this house on Lorraine, Williams eschewed the popular Spanish revival for his version of a pared-down Tudor style, which resulted in a light-filled interior at once traditional yet thoroughly modern. Even as his volume of work increased on the Westside, he regularly returned to projects in Hancock Park, completing over 20 houses with the last residence finished in 1965 for Edwin Ridgway at 232 Rimpau Blvd.

For families

Today, Paul Williams houses are sought after and command premium prices.

Architect Linda Brettler, who worked on one of Williams’ three Banning family residences on McCadden Place, described, in an interview last month, the enduring allure of his houses. She explained that many houses of the period were designed to be very formal. Paul Williams, however, was sophisticated enough to provide high style and grandeur while accommodating the growing desire for a more informal family life. “His designs were geared towards families,” she said. “There is no ego involved in his work. His houses are lovely and livable. They seem to adapt to whatever family is in them.”

Paul Williams himself explained his philosophy for the “Los Angeles Times” in 1970, saying, “Good design is a pleasing assemblage of parts; and not the assemblage of pleasing parts.”

Experienced contractors

For those looking to restore or update a Paul Williams house, it’s best to find designers and contractors experienced with the architect’s work. Gary Drake of Drake General Contractors, who sponsored the new book on Paul Williams, is one such contractor. A long-time homeowner in Brookside, Gary has worked on more than a dozen Paul Williams houses. In Gary’s experience, Williams houses are all “beautiful, sound homes,” and regardless of his builder, Williams “always built a good structural house.” Aside from the standard upgrading of baths and kitchens, Gary says that the only regular upgrade that is asked for is larger closets. His biggest challenge however is reversing bad remodels and restoring original details.

Houses endangered

WILLIAMS-designed home at 232 Rimpau.

For all of the fame and the renown of his work, Paul Williams houses are not always wanted nor protected. As recently as 2019, developer Philip Rahimzadeh, of Core Development Group, bought 100 N. Delfern Dr., the former home of Eva Gabor, Audrey Hepburn and Frank Sinatra in Holmby Hills, and then promptly tore off the façade to prevent the house from being declared a landmark. It has since been demolished.

Paul R. Williams remains a towering figure of cultural importance in Los Angeles. His work transformed not only the urban landscape of Los Angeles but also the image of Hollywood domestic glamour. But he is no less heroic as an American success story overcoming poverty and challenging the conventions of race in his chosen profession to become the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects. His works are among the most sought after houses in Los Angeles.

So, this month, in appreciation of his legacy, pick up a copy of “Paul R. Williams” at Chevalier’s Books on Larchmont and go visit some of his works in the neighborhood, reflecting upon the man, his story and his work. You cannot fail to be amazed.

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