Paul Revere Williams, AIA, “Architect to the Stars,” is an iconic figure in Southern California architecture and the United States, with notable work throughout the region and across the country, including dozens of prominent buildings and celebrity homes. Upon graduating from USC with a degree in architectural engineering, he became the first certified African American architect west of the Mississippi in 1921. Although most of his work can be seen throughout Los Angeles and the neighboring communities, Williams also has his fingerprints in the Coachella Valley, most notably the Palm Springs Tennis Club which he worked on with A. Quincy Jones. The pair also teamed up on two other projects in Palm Springs; the Town & Country restaurant and Romanoff’s on the Rocks.
Williams’ career took off when he won an architecture design competition at age 25. He eventually opened his own firm and built an outstanding reputation as a draftsman. He was also known for his ability to master a bevy of architectural styles and interpret them into modern designs, from Mediterranean to French Tudor. Over the course of his professional career, Williams designed over 2,000 homes, including homes for an A-List cast of celebrities, headlined by Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and Lon Chaney. He also designed notable works throughout Los Angeles, including restaurants, malls, schools, churches, and more. Williams received numerous accolades and honors of the course of his illustrious career, including becoming the first Black member to be inducted in the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows in 1957.
Locally, Williams became involved in the design of the Palm Springs Tennis Club after he was asked by A. Quincy Jones to join the design team. Jones, a former employee of Williams who went on to start his own firm, was awarded the project by socialite Pearl McCallum McManus, who is credited with bringing the Mid-Century Modern movement to Palm Springs. Together, Williams and Jones brought their collective imagination and creative vision to life. They had to conquer many unique challenges presented by developing in the desert in the 1940s, including the extreme climate, natural hazards such as falling rocks, and determine how to site the project to maximize the views and take advantage of the natural surroundings. The ground-breaking result from this dynamic duo is a design that stands the test of time and is an oft-cited example of architecture representing the period and Modern movement. You can get a more detailed history of the Palm Springs Tennis Club and the work of these two architectural icons by visiting the Paul Revere Williams Project website page dedicated to this property.
If you would like to learn more about Paul Revere Williams, there is a wealth of information about his life and legacy available to explore. In 2020, PBS produced a documentary about Williams’ life, including the challenges he went through as a Black man working in a country still segregated by race. There are also several books and websites (including the Paul Revere Williams Project) dedicated to telling his story and honoring his life and accomplishments as an architect and as a prominent figure in the Black community.