Video Vault: Architect Paul Revere Williams displayed unique styles for all classes

La Concha Lobby.jpg

The latest issue of Architecture Las Vegas Magazine features a profile of Paul Revere Williams. If you don’t know the name, you probably recognize some of his creations, including the Guardian Angel Cathedral on the Strip, and the La Concha Motel shell – which is now the gateway to The Neon Museum.

“So by the time he designed those buildings in the early ‘60s, his catalog included just about every type of style you could think of,” says University of Memphis Art Museum Director Dr. Leslie Luebbers, who also heads the Paul Revere Williams Project.

Luebbers says the first African American Fellow with the American Institute of Architecture struggled to get established on the West Coast.

“He had to be sponsored in the architecture community in Los Angeles to become a member of the Southern California chapter of AIA. And then at that point he could be sponsored for national membership.”

Williams became known as an architect to the stars, creating houses for Lon Chaney, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, Zazu Pitts and others. He also designed public buildings, housing developments and hotels.

“It's hard to typify his design style,” observes Luebbers.

In Las Vegas, we still see the majestic angular A-Frame of his Guardian Angel Cathedral. Down the street, The Neon Museum features sweeping curbs, perhaps reminiscent of his LAX Theme Building.

“That is something that carries through his work form the earliest to latest,” notes Luebbers. “But not in as overt a way as La Concha.”

While Williams' highest profile projects were on the Strip, perhaps his most important contributions to Southern Nevada were residential, bringing a new quality of housing to African American families. First in Henderson's Carver Park, and then in Berkley Square just north of downtown Las Vegas.

“Because it was the first of its kind in the area,” says City Preservationist Courtney Mooney. “For some people it was the first home that they had actual indoor plumbing. So it was very important to the Civil Rights movement.”

Williams had already built modular housing at the Henderson Town Site for black families working at the Basic Magnesium Plant. Mooney says the Berkley Square development was the first FHA housing here that was not discriminatory, and Williams kicked it up a notch. Berkley Square is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

“These were designed in the late ‘40s, and we weren't seeing houses here that were considered contemporary ranch until five or six years later on the east side of Las Vegas,” says Mooney. “So these were ahead of their time when they were built.”

“But he wasn't a housing reformer,” counters Luebbers. “I think he relished the opportunity to do those things. But most of his work was for white clientele. There's no question about that.”

Most of Williams’ legacy remains in Southern California, but some of his most exciting work is here.

“Las Vegas liberated him to do things he wouldn't have otherwise have had the opportunity to do.” says Luebbers.

Williams passed away in 1980 at 85. The profile is in the September issue of Architecture Las Vegas, which is the official publication of the Las Vegas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

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