In 1868 the proposed amendment to Congress, was passed by the Senate to abrogate servitude on the shores of the Americas. Thus, it would seem exceptional to some, that only twenty-eight years later on the West Coast of the same shores had begun the legacy of an African American architect and the ascension of over 3,000 architectural structures. That architect was
Paul R. Williams.
Yet it was known in many circles that descendants of servitude were making strives in many a pursuit and occupation. Scientists, inventors, publishers, congressmen, and diplomats, the list is extensive. However, there is relatively très très peu known about the quality of Paul R. Williams, the architect. His granddaughter, Karen E. Hudson, the director of the PRWs archives, documents a veritable gold-mine of history within the annals of these pages. Although troubled by the "driving while black" phenomena, Paul R. Williams took the Booker T. Washington "bootstrap" premise to heart and created an empire of structures on the West Coast (Los Angeles in particular) and universally.
A Legacy of Style is a collection of Williams' work from the 1920s to the 1960s. Prefacing with a conspectus on his life and continuing with a preliminary from David Gebhard, (architectural historian and curator), that traces PRW from his beginnings and interprets the style and significance of his life's work. Splayed throughout the pages are brief narratives from voluminous articles and books of Williams' writings. Through the photographs, illustrations, captions and dreams, the reader unearths the flavor of this architect's nearly six decades of elegance and polish, signature homes, characteristic PRW curves, sleekly designed molding and particularly his "refinement and high taste". Williams' affinity with the traditional and sensitivity to the modern allowed for a lasting style of moderne classique. Yet his style expands further, from Byzantine to European Gothic, to Colonial to the Pueblo, from Romanesque to the English Tudor, Paul R. Williams envelops it all. In the 1930s, Williams reprised the neoclassic style of the relationship between interior and exterior, as in his Jay Paley residence in Bel Air. With this, the inhabitants would embrace a sense freedom. He was at ease in working with diverse styles and locations, from the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Compton Housing Project.
The advances Williams made despite the impediments would inspire the reader. The skills, such as drawing upside-down at a desk for his clients and developing the psychology of marketing his work were all elements of his craftsmanship, acumen, restraint and his concentration to detail. Being Black, he had faced difficulties that made him a " . . . far better craftsman today than I would be had my course been free." The reader will absorb his thoughts and hopes of being seen as an individual and his metamorphosis of his politicization of "being a Negro".
Unfortunately, Williams was unable to complete some of the wishes he had for building in Nigeria nor did he complete the autobiography of his life, but Hudson fulfills an exquisite task in this preservation. Yes, a little known book that should be in everyone's home is also an essential chronicle for the student of architecture. Paul R. Williams, an exceptional man of character, has left us a legacy of style.