Wednesday, May 8, 2013

20th Century L.A. Architects: Chinese American Architects - Paul R. Williams - Pedro E. Guerrero - 2013 Pacific Standard Time Presents

Last month was the start of Pacific Standard Time Presents (PSTP) Modern Architecture in L.A. with the roll out of exhibitions, talks, and city-walk events until this September.  Sixteen cultural institutions are participating - aided with grant funding from the Getty.

The smaller scale PSTP series is a follow-up to the 2011-2012 Pacific Standard Time:  Art in L.A. 1945-1980, in which sixty organizations examined the art scene in the post-World War era.  Last year's exhibits examined cultural identity by telling the stories of African American, Chicano, and Asian American artists.

Chinese American Architects
Last year the Chinese American Museum presented "Breaking Ground:  Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles” - an endeavor that was at least a year ahead of its time; it seems appropriate to mention it again now.  An article by Wendy Gilmartin summarized the show in LA Weekly's blog - Breaking Ground' at Chinese American Museum Shows That Not All L.A. Architects Are Old, White Dudes.

Paul R. Williams, Architect
The pioneering African American architect of L.A. was an Angeleno, Paul Revere Williams (1894-1980).  To borrow from Wikipedia, Williams designed "modern interpretations of Tudor-revival, French Chateau, Regency, French Country, and Mediterranean architecture".  I don’t know if Williams’ works will be included in PSTP; if not, perhaps his traditional designs did not break enough new ground to fit the bill in PSTP.

Williams worked in the offices of John C. Austin before opening his own firm in 1922.  By the time of his retirement in 1973, he contributed directly, through joint ventures, or provided alterations, to more than 3,000 projects of residences, public buildings, business sites, schools and public housing complexes in the city; throughout Southern California and the country; and in foreign sites, too.

The affluence of his clients meant his designs took root in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Brentwood, Flintridge, Hancock Park, Hollywood, Pacific Palisades and Pasadena.  He built for Frank Sinatra, Lon Chaney, Tyrone Power, Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz, Barbara Stanwyck, Zasu Pitts, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, to drop just a few names.  His celebrity African American clients included William 'Bojangles' Robinson and Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson.  He built homes for L.A.'s old families, too:  a Del Valle and the Bannings.

Well-known, iconic spots synonymous with Los Angeles and to Williams' credit include the Theme Building at LAX, the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Polo Lounge, Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Saks Fifth Avenue department store, the County Courthouse downtown and even one that has been razed but remains in our collective memory:  the Ambassador Hotel.  (Update August 9, 2016:  Williams may have been a commissioner or a municipal board member that caused his name to be associated the LAX project, but he was not the architect of the Theme Building.)
Other sites included the Packard auto showroom in Beverly Hills, the Malibu Post Office, the Bank of America in Victorville, and the San Gabriel Hospital in the city of San Gabriel.  Education projects included numerous public schools and several UCLA buildings and fraternity houses.

Pi Beta Phi Sorority House near USC - one of Paul Williams' last projects (about 1973)

Williams designed several tract developments located in Costa Mesa, Downey, Oceanside and Whittier.  He was awarded jobs for several city housing projects:  Compton-Imperial, Nickerson Gardens, and Pueblo Del-Rio.
Relatedly, civil rights attorney Leo Branton Jr. passed away on April 26th.  He was victorious co-defender in the 1972 murder trial of Angela Davis, but as a newly minted graduate in 1948, Branton helped singer Nat King Cole to legally break a color barrier after Cole purchased a home on Muirfield Road in the exclusive Hancock Park community but faced disdain from neighbors.

Ironically, by 1948 Paul Williams was a seasoned architect.  By that time he also served on the city's first Housing Commission from 1933 to 1941.  Williams built clients' homes in Hancock Park.  And it was not until 1951 when Williams himself managed to build his own house in the Lafayette Square upper middle class area of west central L.A., a time when Blacks moved in as Whites moved to other parts.
His astounding project list can be found in Paul R. Williams, Architect, a Legacy of Style, by his granddaughter Karen E. Hudson (Rizzoli, NY:  1993) telling of the breadth of his 50+ years impact in Southern California.  Read more about Williams on the website

Pedro E. Guerrero, Photographer

Could Pedro E. Guerrero be honored sometime during the architectural series?  Guerrero, an Arizonan of Mexican descent, photographed for Frank Lloyd Wright throughout a 50 year span.  His photographic work was on view at the Julius Shulman Institute exhibition the Spring of 2012 at the Woodbury University Hollywood Gallery.  In September he  passed away at the age of 95.