In 1912 Paul R. Williams graduated from Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles and began pursuing his goal to become an architect. After graduation the young Williams systematically contacted every architectural firm in Los Angeles and offered his services, often at no cost. He finally secured a position with the important landscape architect, Wilbur D. Cook, Jr. (1913). Cook designed the original Beverly Hills Hotel grounds and the extensive gardens for the Walter Luther Dodge House—both important architectural landmarks in Los Angeles. Cook influenced Williams' ideas on town planning and the importance of integrating landscape with architecture. (AIA files)
Williams would work for a number of important Los Angeles architects before opening his own office, including Reginald D. Johnson (1914-1917) and Arthur F. Kelly (1917-1921). With each of these positions his experience expanded and his skills as a draftsman improved.
During this time there was much interest by architectural professionals in providing guidance to the "men of the future" or embryo architects. Licensed architects across the country organized ateliers, taught classes, gave advice and criticism to students and draftsmen and encouaged the development of a "trained, artistic, and efficient body of practioners." (Southwest Builder and Contractor. July 8, 1921) Williams participated in a number of these mentoring programs including one sponsored by the Society of Beaux Arts Architects of California. The objective of the Beaux Arts Society was "the education of younger men of the community who are striving to become architects." (Architect and Engineer of California-Pacific Coast States June 1907) To strengthen his knowledge of engineering, Williams also enrolled in courses at the University of Southern California.
Williams submitted entries to regional and national architectural competitions as a continuation of his self-directed preparation for the competitive nature of architecture. Winning a number of these contests, he came to the attention of the judges, important members of the profession. These architects took notice of the young Paul R. Williams and were impressed with his skills as a draftsman and his designs. He was soon offered a position with one of the judges John C. Austin.
John C. Austin (image 3) was born in England and made Los Angeles his home in 1894. Known as one of the most distinguished of 20th century California architects, Austin and his firm are associated with designing many architecturally important public buildings in Los Angeles.
From 1921 to 1924 Paul R. Williams worked at John C. Austin's firm primarily designing commercial buildings. Eventually he became Chief Draftsman with a staff of twenty. During Williams’ tenure, the firm worked on many major civic projects including the Shrine Auditorium (image 2) and the Hollywood Masonic Temple.
In 1921 Paul R. Williams passed the State of California's architectural licensing examination and shortly after opened his own office. He continued to work for Austin until he developed his own client base. Williams maintained his relationship with Austin and collaborated with him throughout the years. In 1958 the group Allied Architects (Williams; Austin, Field and Fry; J.E. Stanton and Adrian Wilson) designed the LA Superior Court building.
By 1923 Paul Williams was accepted as a member of the American Institute of Architecture (AIA), an important recognition for the young African American designer. In 1957 Williams was elected by AIA's Jury of Fellows to membership in their College of Fellows in recognition "for your notable contribution in Public Service." (1957 letter from Edmund Purves, Executive Director, AIA)