Mr. Williams

Paul R. Williams

Williams in 1952 with Claude Reeves, who would later become superintendent of Los Angeles public schools.

Second Baptist Church, Los Angeles, 1924 With Norman F. Marsh, Williams designed this replacement facility for the Second Baptist Church, the oldest African-American Baptist church in Los Angeles. The pastor at the time, Dr. Thomas Lee Griffith Sr., believed in promoting black-owned businesses, so all of the skilled workmen on the project were hired from black-owned companies. The Romanesque structure was rededicated (after extensive remodeling) in 2009 and added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ambassador Hotel’s legendary Cocoanut Grove nightclub, redesigned by Williams in 1949.

Ball-Arnaz Residence, Palm Springs, Calif., 1954 In the early 1950s, when I Love Lucy was one of the most-watched shows on television, its stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz asked Paul R. Williams to create a weekend retreat for them in Palm Springs, where they could relax from their hectic production schedule.

Williams designed an informal, 4,400-square-foot ranch house with six bedrooms and a swimming pool. The architect encouraged the outdoors to flow inside—as was popular in Palm Springs at the time—by putting in glass walls and including a lanai-style outdoor living space. The house was demolished in 2002, and the Ball-Arnaz house was replaced by seven smaller ones.

El Mirador Hotel, Palm Springs, Calif., 1952 Williams became known as an "architect to the stars" due to the houses he designed for celebrities such as Barbara Stanwyck, Bert Lahr, and dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. But Williams also put his hand to a great number of nonresidential projects. For example, he remodeled the fashionable El Mirador Hotel in 1952, adding an outdoor lounge with a modernized trellis and retractable canopy, among other new features.

Tennis Club, Palm Springs, Calif., 1947 Williams partnered with architect A. Quincy Jones (a former employee of his) on the renovation and expansion of the Tennis Club in Palm Springs, a project now seen as a significant example of California Modernism. Jones and Williams went well beyond the original remit to renovate the clubs kitchen and swimming and tennis areas: They added a new main dining room, a cocktail lounge, and more spaces, driving the cost from $60,000 up to $250,000.

Palm Springs Tennis Club, exterior.

Throughout the club, they emphasized the connection to the surrounding desert with ample use of stone and wood and expanses of glass. Extreme temperatures and falling rock posed problems during construction, but the architects regarded the site as "a continuous testing laboratory for building materials and equipment," they told Southwest Builder and Contractor in the year of the Tennis Club's completion.

Saks-Fifth Avenue Store, Los Angeles, 1938 At this 74,000-square-foot department store, Williams gave each room its own style and mood, appropriate to the merchandise being sold there. The merchandise itself was kept in recesses, tastefully out of plain view. This approach looked forward to contemporary boutique design.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tenn., 1962 Williams friend, the actor Danny Thomas, was the driving force behind St. Jude, which he envisioned as a need-blind, racially integrated hospital for children. Williams designed the first phase of the hospital pro bono, in a star shape—a central hub with five radiating wings. By the year 2000, all but one arm of Williams' star had been replaced as the hospital grew and modernized.

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