Paul Williams was known as an architect to the stars in the ’40s and ’50s, when he designed French chateau, Regency, and Mediterranean-style mansions for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Cary Grant, and Barbara Stanwyck.
Williams was the first certified African-American architect west of the Mississippi, and the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects.
In the 1920s he learned to render drawings upside down because, at the time, many of his white clients felt uncomfortable sitting next to him. Drafting upside down allowed him to sit across the desk from his clients, while they looked at his drafts right-side-up.
He’d go on to work on the design of prominent buildings in wildly varying styles, including the retro-futuristic, elevated Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport; the Saks Fifth Avenue on Wilshire Boulevard; and the Beverly Hills Hotel.
He designed more than 2,000 private homes before he died in 1980 at age 85. Several of them are available today, but you’ll have to spend at least a cool million for the privilege of owning one. Here’s what’s currently on the market for fans of Williams’ architectural style.
Design details: Built in 1948, this home is a rare example of one of Williams’ Modernist-style residences, and one of the few in Southern California’s Inland Empire. The three-bedroom was designated as a landmark in 2006, and retains many of Williams’ original design elements, including midcentury fireplaces, cool cabinetry, and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Design details: The Goldschmidt house, also known as Casa Tres Vistas, was designed by Williams in 1928 for a wealthy vintner who owned the 11,000 acres that later became the city of San Clemente. The current homeowners have restored the oak and “picket tile” floors, as well as the four balconies with ocean views. Blue agave, palm trees, eucalyptus, stone pine, vegetable gardens, an orchard, and vineyard surround this four-bedroom hacienda.
Design details: Back when the mountain community of Lake Arrowhead was a playground to celebs, Williams designed vacation accommodations like this French country–inspired lakefront cottage, completed in 1940. Its five bedrooms and four baths have been completely renovated, yet its original, gracious country charm has been left intact. Best of all? It sits on 140 feet of lake frontage.
Design details: Williams built this traditional-style manor for Eva Gabor in 1938. Three more structures have been added to the 7,000-square-foot main house over the years: living quarters above the garage, an elaborate pool house, and a greenhouse. This six-bedroom compound is located on a large lot in a swanky neighborhood right off Sunset Boulevard between Beverly Hills and Bel Air, which helps to account for the impressive price.
Design details: A rare one-story home designed by Williams, this beauty sits on a 3.34-acre lot on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It comes with a guesthouse, tennis court, pool and spa, three-stall barn and paddock, as well as a five-bedroom ranch-style house. Williams also worked as the landscape architect, creating the dramatic tree-lined driveway and the parklike grounds. While much of the interior has been remodeled, Williams’ signature wood-beamed ceilings, custom cabinetry, and gorgeous terraces remain.
Design details: Described as “an exciting opportunity,” this Spanish Colonial–style home could use some TLC. Built in 1930, the five-bedroom main residence still retains original Williams details, including the intricate ceilings, terra-cotta tile floors, and wrought-iron gates and railings. A large sculpture garden, expansive motor court, and sweeping lawns add to the elegance of this mansion located in the Brentwood Heights area.
Design details: Williams built this Hollywood Hills home in 1929. The four-story Spanish Revival has been newly renovated, with the floor plan, grounds, and kitchen substantially updated. You would definitely get something old and something new with this five-bedroom stunner.
Design details: Williams built this Bel Air estate in 1936, and it narrowly missed the wrecking ball in 2007. Sandy Gallin, a famous producer, talent agent, and home designer, purchased it from the estate of actress Jane Wyatt for $8 million. The Los Angeles landmarks review board rejected Gallin’s plans to replace the Williams-designed structure with a modern glass house, so he restored it instead. He increased the home’s square footage, added yoga and steam rooms and a pool, and sold it in 2011 for $21 million. The current owners listed the seven-bedroom estate in May 2017 for $35 million and have since trimmed the price.
Design details: This one-story home built by Williams in 1940 is a bit of a head-scratcher. The listing states, “Photographs were taken several years ago. House is not in same condition.” What we do know is that the home sits on a large acre lot in the prestigious hills of Brentwood. But when a home is described as a “rare opportunity and incredible value” with “endless options,” you know it’s just waiting for a contractor to come and change everything—although there might be historical limitations.
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