Thursday, May 6, 2021

Paul R. Williams

This story about architect Paul R. Williams came into my consciousness back in February, but didn't make it onto the blog until now. I saw it courtesy of the Los Angeles NBC affiliate, which teased it like this:

Imagine it's the 1940s and you've given years of your life to redesigning one of the most iconic hotels in the U.S. Imagine it's then hailed by your peers as a modern-day marvel. Now, imagine you're not even allowed to stay there because you're Black. 

The lettering on the sign is based on Williams' handwriting, according to his granddaughter.

Williams designed not just the Beverly Hills Hotel, but also the LA County Court House, the Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue store, and many homes of the rich and famous.

But despite his genius vision, Williams still had to overcome the discrimination of clients who saw his race before his talent.

"He had a few things he would use just to help him to win them [clients] over," said Williams' granddaughter, Karen E. Hudson. "They got there and stopped in their tracks because they didn't realize he was Black, and they were ready to back out."

There were a few methods Williams would use to help persuade potential clients.  One of the most well-known was drawing upside down. Instead of sitting shoulder to shoulder with clients, Williams would sit across the table from them, asking questions about their vision. As the client described what they were wanting, he would sketch the design upside down.

"He would say, what's your vision, as you sat there across the desk from him," says Hudson. "He would sketch it upside down, and it would come alive before your eyes."

The video that accompanies the linked story has lots more details about him, his work, and images of his buildings.


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