Tom in NO
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Joined: Thu Nov 11, 1999 10:10 am

LAX Theme Building Architect In The News

Sat Mar 13, 2004 4:52 am

Not sure if this has been referenced today, but I spotted this article in today's (Friday's) USA Today in the Life section. The architect of LAX's Theme Building is being recognized. The article is geared more towards Black History Month than the Theme Building, but the print article and the direct link to the article contain a picture of Mr. Williams in front of the Theme Building, and the building is noted in the article.

Posted 3/11/2004 8:51 PM Updated 3/12/2004 12:02 PM

Paul Revere Williams built on black history
By Maria Puente, USA TODAY
In an era when architects can be as famous as rock stars, Paul Revere Williams may be the most acclaimed architect you've never heard of.

The famous terminal at LAX was the work of black architect Paul Rever Williams.
Courtesy of Julius Shulman as seen in "Paul R. Williams Architect: A Legacy of Style" By Karen E. Hudson

He designed some of Los Angeles' most famous landmarks — such as the Polo Lounge and the pink-and-green Beverly Hills Hotel. He was the "architect to the stars," building houses for some of Hollywood's biggest names, such as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Cary Grant, Groucho Marx and Frank Sinatra. When Danny Thomas decided to build St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis in the early 1960s, he turned to Williams, who produced the initial design — for free.

But there was a catch: Williams was a black man in a Jim Crow era. He had to travel on segregated trains. He learned to draw upside down because he couldn't sit next to white clients during a consultation. When he went to the Beverly Hills Hotel, the waiters wouldn't serve him at poolside.

"He had many challenges," says his granddaughter Karen Hudson, who has written several books about Williams and maintains his archives. "He always said he was probably a better craftsman than he would have been because of the challenges — because he had to be better than everybody else."

Now, Williams, who died in 1980 after a career of more than 60 years and 3,000 buildings, is getting long-overdue attention. Some of his buildings have gained historic status. His portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. And the Black Alumni Association of the University of Southern California, where Williams went to school, has mounted an exhibit celebrating him for shaping early Los Angeles. Williams the Conqueror: The Legacy of Architect Paul Revere Williams is on view there through March 31.

A Paul Williams house had "an understated elegance and grace," says Hudson. They feel "warm and cozy, even if they're big."

Born in Los Angeles and orphaned at age 4, Williams grew up with the sprawling but largely undeveloped city, worked his way through art schools and opened his own architecture practice at 28. His projects ranged from public housing to modest middle-class bungalows to multimillion-dollar estates in Beverly Hills, plus the famous Chasen's restaurant, Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and the spaceship-like Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport.

He was politically conservative, not a man to make waves, but he was aware of the prejudice he faced. In a 1937 magazine article, he talked about a client's house in a beautiful neighborhood. "I have dreamed of living there. I could afford such a home. But this evening, leaving my office, I returned to my small, inexpensive home in an unrestricted, comparatively undesirable section of Los Angeles ... because ... I am a Negro."

Definitely one of the more recognizable landmarks in airport architecture.

Tom at MSY
"The criminal ineptitude makes you furious"-Bruce Springsteen, after seeing firsthand the damage from Hurricane Katrina

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