When Paul Williams began his career, he could find no black architects to be his role models or mentors. Born in downtown Los Angeles in 1894, Williams became orphaned before he turned 4 when his parents, Chester and Lila, died of tuberculosis. A family friend raised him and told him he was so bright, he could do anything he wanted. And what he wanted was to design homes for families ”” perhaps because he lost his own so early in his life. Despite warnings from those who thought he was being impractical (“Your own people can’t afford you, and white clients won’t hire you,” was one such warning), Williams became an architect.
His work has come to signify glamorous Southern California to the rest of the country ”” and to the world. One of his hallmarks ”” a luxuriantly curving staircase ”” has captivated many a potential owner. Retired financial services magnate Peter Mullin remembers how he felt when he saw his 1925 Colonial, the first one Williams built in L.A.’s posh Brentwood neighborhood.
“The first time I saw it, I didn’t think I could afford the house, but if I could afford the staircase, I wanted to take it with me!” Mullin laughs. He bought the house ”” once inhabited by producer Ingwald Preminger, brother of director Otto ”” and has enjoyed it for 35 years.