More than 45,000 Paul Williams Drawings, Thought Lost, Found Safe

Artist Rendering of LAX Terminal
From the iconic to the sublime, designs and drawings by Paul Williams are a fantastic treasure, even more so when you learn his story and the manner he used to create some of them.

Story by: Carolina A. Miranda

In 1992, when Los Angeles went up in flames in the wake of the Rodney King verdict, one of the buildings claimed by fire was a bank at the intersection of South Broadway and 45th Street, located on the border of Historic South Central and South Park.

The Broadway Federal Savings & Loan had once been a Woolworth’s building, but in 1955 it was transformed into a bank by Paul R. Williams — the prominent and prolific Los Angeles architect who designed private homes for numerous celebrities (among them, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Stanwyck, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz), as well as churches, hotels, commercial buildings and even the font for the famous Beverly Hills Hotel logo.

Indeed, after the bank’s completion, Williams deposited his important papers there for safe-keeping.

So when the building went up in flames during the ’92 uprising, so did much of the archival legacy of an architect who helped define the aesthetics of Southern California design though much of the 20th century. Not to mention the legacy of one of the country’s most notable Black architects with a rack of “firsts” to his name: the first licensed architect in California, the first African American to become a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the first to receive the AIA Gold Medal.

It turns out that the blaze that destroyed the Broadway Federal Savings & Loan didn’t, as has long been reported, erase Williams’ legacy. While some of his business records were indeed lost in that fire, most of the architect’s thousands of original drawings were safe at another location.

Which means that there is a Paul R. Williams archive — and it contains approximately 35,000 architectural plans, 10,000 original drawings, in addition to blueprints, hand-colored renderings, vintage photographs and correspondence. And, on Tuesday morning, the Getty Research Institute (GRI) and USC’s School of Architecture are expected to announce a joint acquisition from Williams’ granddaughter Karen Elyse Hudson, who has long served as the principal steward of Williams’ work.