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Cultural commission recommends Paul Williams home for inclusion

The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission has recommended for the Historic-Cultural Monument List the 30-year home of master architect Paul Revere Williams


On 35th Street in Jefferson Park

By: City News Service

The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission has recommended for the Historic-Cultural Monument List the 30-year home of master architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed more than 3,000 buildings during his nearly six-decade career and was the first African-American architect to be a member and fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

The home at 1271 W. 35th St. in Jefferson Park is for sale for $1.2 million and initially advertised as a “Student Housing Development opportunity… just blocks to the University of Southern California.’’

L.A. Conservancy submitted the application requesting that the Craftsman-style house, where Williams lived from 1921 to 1951, be added as a Historic-Cultural Monument, saying that it “illustrates a part of Paul Revere Williams’ life and story that is rarely told or fully understood.’’

Adrian Scott Fine of L.A. Conservancy told commissioners that the group’s hope is to attract a preservation-minded buyer instead of a developer. Following the commission’s vote on Sept. 2 to take up consideration of the house as a Historic Cultural Monument, the property’s listing was updated to advertise it as a “rare single-family residence, a historic nominated monument, which belonged to the most influential African-American architect, Paul Revere Williams.’’ The listing price was also lowered from $1.6 million.

“While this is not architecturally significant … it’s really about the story and his association with this place and what it illustrates about him as a Black man, as a Black architect and his family in terms of where they could live and where they could not,’’ Fine said.

The Cultural Heritage Commission received hundreds of letters regarding the designation, and several people called in to support the nomination during the meeting on Thursday. During the council’s meeting on Sept. 2, one person called in to oppose the property’s nomination, instead recommending that pieces of the home be donated to a museum.

Commissioner Gail Kennard responded saying that the location is more part of the story than the physical house, given that Williams, who designed homes for celebrities in white neighborhoods, had to live in Jefferson Park, one of the few areas in Los Angeles where Black people were allowed to buy homes.

“It’s part of the story of why he had to live there—restrictive covenants—the  location is all wrapped up in that. He did not design that home, he lived in that home. The story is that he designed a lot of other homes that other people could live in that he couldn’t live in. So it’s very important that we preserve this cultural history,’’ Kennard said.

Williams was a trailblazing architect who designed homes for Frank Sinatra, Lon Chaney, Danny Thomas, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. He also designed Historic-Cultural Monuments including the Bruce and Lula Blackburn Residence, the Victor Rossetti Residence, the Angelus Funeral Home, the Castera Residence, Oakridge and Grounds, the T.R. Craig Residence, the Hunt Residence, the Hannah Schwartz Apartments, the LAX Theme Building, Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co., and more.

During the Cultural Heritage Commission Sept. 2 meeting, L.A. Conservancy’s Teresa Grimes shared a quote by Williams from 1937 in which he said: “Today, I sketched the preliminary plans for a large country house which will be erected in one of the most beautiful residential districts in the world. Sometimes, I have dreamed of living there. I could afford such a home. But this evening, I returned to my own small, inexpensive home … in a comparatively undesirable section of Los Angeles. I must always live in that locality, or in another like it, because … I am a Negro.’’