Architecture and Design: Paul Williams’ Classic Los Angeles

From the Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.

American architect Paul R. Williams was one of Los Angeles’ most prolific architects of the 20th century, designing more than 3,000 public and private buildings from the city’s Downtown to the Pacific Coast.

Williams was appointed to the first Los Angeles City Planning Commission in 1920 and was the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Although a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright and LA’s later Mid-century architects, Williams’ residential designs could not have been more different from those of his modernist peers. At the California House and Garden Exhibition of 1936, Williams, one of six architects invited to build “demonstration homes,” constructed a French Revival style house whose mansard roof and elliptical dining room stood in marked contrast to Richard J. Neutra’s Plywood House, which was as linear and free of ornament as its name suggested.

  William’s headquarters for MCA still stands today in Beverly Hills.

A student of the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and USC, Williams embraced and masterfully brought to life the most patrician architectural styles of Europe and colonial America. In his most impressive projects, these dignified residences, with their elegant façades, grand foyers and sweeping staircases, epitomized the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age and housed many of the entertainment industry’s biggest players from both sides of the camera. He designed homes for Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lon Chaney, Barbara Stanwyck and Charles Correll, among others. He also designed the legendary “power lunch spot,” Perino’s restaurant, as well as the Beverly Hills headquarters of MCA, the largest talent agency in the world at the time – a campus-like project for which he won the AIA Award of Merit. The graceful Georgian Revival compound still stands at the corner of Crescent Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard South.

For the first time in 64 years, one of Williams’ most notable projects has come on the market, a white brick Colonial Revival in Little Holmby Hills, known as the Shuwarger House. Built in 1938, the property became the residence of former President Ronald Reagan and his first wife, Jane Wyman, as well as the fictional home of Joan Crawford in the hit TV series, Feud, where it provided Crawford’s character ample opportunities for theatrical entrances and obligatory, in”Hollywood,” poolside meetings.