Paul R. Williams Hollow Tile House floorplan. Architect and Engineer, January 1920
“This drawing was marked ‘13’ when submitted, so there’s nothing in the old superstition as far as Mr. Williams is concerned.” (John C. Austin, The Architect and Engineer, October 1919)
When the competition to design a hollow tile house costing no more than $5,000 was first announced in The Architect and Engineer (1919) there was considerable interest by architects and draftsmen across the country. The contest conducted by the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and underwritten by the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company presented an architectural challenge to the participants: design a moderately priced house using burned clay products (hollow tiles) that would appeal to the growing number of Californians who wanted to build or buy their own home. Some of the most important regional architects were selected as judges including John C. Austin, D.C. Allison, and Garrett Van Pelt, Jr.
Hollow tile has been described as the “big brother of the brick” (Frederick Squires. The Hollow-Tile House, 1913) and has been used in building construction for hundreds of years. The hollow or tube-like units of fired clay or other materials such as gypsum or cinder concrete can be used for building walls, partitions, and roofs, and are especially useful as fireproofing. The Medici villas in Italy, Spain’s Moorish Alhambra, the Californian Capistrano Mission, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles are all examples of buildings made with the fired tiles.
From 1919 -1920 the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Co spent large sums advertising in Los Angeles newspapers proposing the use of hollow tiles as an alternative to expensive lumber, stressing the superior fireproof qualities of the tile. “It is pointed out that to own a home that is fireproof not only lessons the dangers of destruction from fire starting inside, but also insures absolute protection against fires in the immediate vicinity.” (Brick and Clay, November 30, 1920) It was only natural that the company should sponsor a competition for an affordable house design using one of their best selling products.
Twenty-four designs were submitted to the competition with the majority described by the judges as “Spanish Colonial,” a style deemed suitable for the Southern California climate and way of life. Meeting a number of times and debating the merits of each, the panel selected four entries for cash prizes and four others for mention. Paul R. Williams’ simple, compact, and “well thought out” design was selected as the first place winner and he was awarded $300.
In their written critique of the Williams’ design the judges lauded his superior renderings, tasteful exterior treatment and lack of “useless ornaments or expensive fads,” all factors contributing to ease and economy of construction. Williams’ characteristic use of landscaping was noted as adding “harmony” with Southern California conditions and extending the useable living space. Their only negative comment was the lack of lighting in a middle bedroom but “there were so many good features that it was finally decided that the good outweighed the bad.”