The famed Beverly Hills estate Cordhaven designed by Paul R. Williams was built in 1933 for Errett Lobban Cord (E. L. Cord). Cord had little formal education -- briefly enrolled at the Los Angeles Polytechnic High School (1907) and in a few evening business classes at the Y.M.C.A. He began his career as a used car salesman (1911) but within months had opened the Cord Auto Washing Company. Recognizing the potential of the American auto industry, he became an early car-centric entrepeuner. In 15 years at the age of 32, he was the youngest president of a large American automobile manufacturing company. (Los Angeles Times. December 26, 1926) A man with impressive executive ability, by 1929 Cord controlled over 150 companies including the Auburn Automobile Company (the maker of the iconic Cord and the Duesenberg). Though living in a number of midwestern cities in the 1920s, Cord decided to return to Los Angeles.
When completed, Cordhaven, the Southern Colonial-style, red brick mansion on an eighteen-acre estate at North Hillcrest Road in Beverly Hills covered 32,000 square feet, had 16 bedrooms and 22 bathrooms. Impressed by how quickly he received the plans for the “dream house” and the quality of the ideas, Cord awarded Paul R. Williams the contract over the proposals of many of the important white architects practicing in Los Angeles at the time. Involved in every aspect of planning, E.L. Cord has often been described as one of Williams' "most difficult but stimulating clients." (Errett Lobban Cord: His Empire, His Motorcars, 1984.)
The construction of Cord's residence caused considerable buzz in Depression era Los Angeles. The public followed each step in the planning and construction of the opulent home through newspaper articles and magazine photo spreads. California Arts and Architecture (1933-1934) featured both the interior and exterior of the estate in multiple issues. The magazine praised Williams' skill at varying the "decorative schemes" needed for the more than 50 rooms calling his final design "a happy solution in a complex problem."
Because of the public's interest Williams' photographs, renderings and sketches for the project were included in a display of his work at Mary Louise Schmidt's Architects and Engineers Building in downtown Los Angeles. An article in the professional magazine Architect and Engineer (October, 1931) describing the Williams' exhibition reported that the Cord house "is said to be an unusually fine example of the Southern Colonial style of architecture."
In size the $2 million-dollar Cord mansion was similar to many others built during the 1920s and 1930s in Beverly Hills. The basic contruction was of concrete, brick and wood, but the inclusion of the finest materials, including rosewood, satinwood and hand-painted murals, separated it from all other over-the-top Southern California homes of that era. The opulence of these finishes in addition to the three dining rooms, ballroom, billiard room with walls covered with leather, solarium, shooting gallery, two hotel-sized kitchens, underground wine cellar with a bank vault door and guest pavillion were "surpassed by only a few show places across the country." (Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1961)
With the Cordhaven showplace successfully completed, Williams began to be noticed by many of the Los Angeles powerful. His working relationship with Cord however did not end with the construction of the Beverly Hills home. Williams would later design a $50,000 family home (1941) on the entrepreneur's Nevada Circle L Ranch and an inn with a nearby residence for a Cord relative in Lovelock, NV. (document of the Board of Equalization of the State of California, 1958) The Nevada ranch house and Lovelock properties still exist, but Cordhaven was demolished in 1963 and developed into 13 separate parcels.
In a 1970 interview in the Los Angeles Times Paul Williams remembered his experience working directly with E.L during the design and construction of Cordhaven. "I've had a lot of fun spending other people's money, " the architect told reporter Maggie Savoy. "...when it was torn down people came from all over the country to buy pieces of it."