Imagine it's the 1940s and you've given years of your life to redesigning one of the most iconic hotels in the United States.
Imagine it's then hailed by your peers as a modern-day marvel.
Now, imagine you're not even allowed to stay there because you're Black.
That was the reality for Paul R. Williams, the architect behind The Beverly Hills Hotel and some of the most iconic buildings in Los Angeles, not to mention the homes of many of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 20th century. The Los Angeles County Courthouse and Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills are just a few of the designs that sprang from Williams' imagination. By the time he died in 1980, Williams had a significant hand in developing LA's landscape, designing more than 3,000 structures.
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But despite his genius vision, Williams still had to overcome the discrimination of clients who saw his race before his talent.
"He had a few things he would use just to help him to win them [clients] over," said Williams' granddaughter, Karen E. Hudson. "They got there and stopped in their tracks because they didn't realize he was Black, and they were ready to back out."
There were a few methods Williams would use to help persuade potential clients. One of the most well-known was drawing upside down. Instead of sitting shoulder to shoulder with clients, Williams would sit across the table from them, asking questions about their vision. As the client described what they were wanting, he would sketch the design upside down.
"He would say, what's your vision, as you sat there across the desk from him," says Hudson. "He would sketch it upside down, and it would come alive before your eyes."
Williams did all he could to win clients over, but would never use methods to degrade himself. "The fact that he was willing to turn work down intrigued people even more," said Hudson.
Today, Williams' signature still stands tall above one of the most iconic hotels in all of Los Angeles, The Beverly Hills Hotel. His redesign came at a time when segregation was at its peak in the United States. Williams knew the challenges going in, but still approached the job with class and professionalism.
"He wasn't even able to eat out by the pool," said Hudson, "The waitresses and hostess would not seat him." Even though Williams was unwelcomed at the hotel, he still created one of the most iconic looks in American history. "He had the ability to take that and somehow make it part of his strength."
Despite his extensive portfolio of work, Williams' story remains a surprise to some Americans. She said she love to see his name recognized outside the context of Black History Month. "The day he's celebrated other than February is a day that I will be really happy," said Hudson.
Today, according to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, just 2% of licensed architects in the country are Black. Karen continues to share her grandfather's legacy to inspire the Black community to follow in his footsteps. The man who was once unwelcome is now responsible for the diverse style that has made Los Angles what it is today.