Master architect Paul R. Williams left a local legacy

| January 28, 2021 | 0 Comments

NEW BOOK examines the life and work of architect Paul R. Williams. Cover photo is the Collins House located in Windsor Square.

As we celebrate the triumphs and struggles of African American History this month, there is perhaps no local example that highlights such achievements better than the residential designs of architect Paul R. Williams.

In his six-decade career, Williams worked on more than 3,000 projects that ranged from modest homes to extravagant mansions commissioned for the city’s elite. Renowned for his mastery of harmonious proportions and signature undulating lines, Williams’ residential designs were simultaneously graceful and relaxed.

Williams’ inspiring story is examined in a new book, “Master Architects of Southern California 1920-1940: Paul R. Williams,” published last month by Tailwater Press and Angel City Press. The 212-page book is the fourth in a series co-authored by local real estate agent Bret Parsons along with architect Marc Appleton. Stephen Gee also is a co-author of this volume.

The book examines the unlikely story of Paul Revere Williams, an orphan son of a fruit and vegetable merchant, who would become the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), as well as a dominant force in Southern California architecture. In 2017, the AIA posthumously presented its highest honor, the Gold Medal, to Williams.

In addition to highlighting 30 of the architect’s projects that were previously featured in “The Architectural Digest,” the new book provides an extensively researched account of Williams’ rise to prominence. Among the many interesting anecdotes is this excerpt, written by Williams on the impact race had on his career:

“Naturally, I encountered many discouragements and rebuffs, most of which were predicated upon my color,” Williams wrote in a controversial article for “American Magazine” published in 1937. “I survived a few hardships which might have been avoided had my face been white. But I do not regret those difficulties, for I think that I am a far better craftsman today than I would be had my course been free.”

Co-author Parsons, who serves as Compass Realty’s executive director of its architectural division, says that local homes designed by Paul Williams command top dollar from savvy buyers: “In fact, most of his homes are sold in multiple offer situations. There are only a dozen architects to garner that level of interest. He’s the king when it comes to residential architects from Southern California’s Golden Age.”

Williams’ craftsmanship is still very much on display in Hancock Park and Windsor Square, including the following properties that are featured in the new book.

Local houses

In 1927, the Bachman House was built on land purchased directly from developer G. Allan Hancock, who had begun to subdivide Hancock Park. Investor Walter Bachman and Juliet Bachman recruited Williams to design a Spanish Colonial Revival residence on the lot.

Three years later, financier Alfred Dewey Davey and Ruth Davey recruited Williams to create a relaxed, two-story Monterey-style residence in Fremont Place. The property, known as the Davey House, was acquired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico in 1994 to be occupied by that nation’s local consul general.

In 1931, Sarah Belle Goodwin, the wealthy widow of oilman James Franklin Goodwin, commissioned Williams to design the Colonial-inspired Goodwin House on S. McCadden Place in Hancock Park. The home was designed to be large enough to comfortably house her daughter Bessie Hazzard, Sarah’s twin grandchildren and a maid.

The Collins House is a dreamy French Country-style two-story residence on Lorraine Boulevard in Windsor Square built in 1932. Designed for William and Helen Collins, the house is ranked among the architect’s personal favorite works.

The book “Master Architects of Southern California 1920-1940: Paul R. Williams” is available at Chevalier’s Books and


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Category: Real Estate

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