What is an archive, and why are archives useful to researchers?

An archive is a public or private institution where documents of permanent or continuing value are collected, catalogued, organized, and preserved for use by researchers. Some archives are only open to selected researchers who often must make an appointment to use rare materials. Others welcome anyone with a curiosity about the particular subject highlighted in their collection. Archival resources may come in many different forms: ephemera, print, handwritten manuscripts, drawings, photographs, diaries, maps, and even films. With the advent of digital online technology it is now easier to visit most archives anywhere in the world from the convenience of your desk top.  Archives are important to both researchers and the interested public because they are the repositories and depositories for the memories of a culture.

Oral records are another important resource for understanding and preserving the lives of both every day citizens and important contemporary, historical or culturally relevant figures. Many museums, universities, and libraries have assembled the recollections of the individuals themselves or those who worked with them or knew them. Oral history collections are a specialized type of archive.

The following institutions have pertinant oral history collections with information about Paul R. Williams. Transcripts of some of these oral histories are available online, but interested persons should contact each of these institutions directly to find out more about their collections and how to find access to them.

  • UCLA: University Library, Special Collections. African-American Leaders  in Los Angeles
  • UCLA Oral History Program
  • Julius Shulman Archives at the Getty Research Institute Library

The archives listed here have collections useful in any study of Paul Revere Williams and his architectural works, California architecture and California life.

The Bancroft Library

The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library at the University of California, Berkeley.  It houses more than 8,000,000 photographs and hundreds of thousands of books and manuscripts, many documenting the history of California. Images can be viewed online from the library’s website, including photos of Paul R. Williams’ buildings.

California Historical Society

With over 35,000 books and pamphlets, an extensive ephemera collection, and thousands of digitized images, this archive specializes in materials relating to the history of California from early explorations to the present. Many of the images may be seen online.

The California State Library: Picture Catalog

Over 150 years old, the California State Library is a central reference and research library for both state government and the California public. Now open to researchers around the world through its easy-to-use web site, the library’s Picture Catalog is especially helpful to anyone interested in images relating to all aspects of California history.

The Getty Research Institute Library: Julius Shulman Archives

Julius Shulman is one of the foremost architectural photographers of the 20th century, and he photographed many of the works of Paul R. Williams. The Getty houses the complete Shulman archives, including photographs, books, and related oral histories. While many images are available online the archive is currently being organized and cataloged. It may be helpful to contact the Getty staff.

Historical Society of Long Beach

The mission of this historical society is to preserve Long Beach’s past and its environs for future generations. The archive prides itself on having something “for every kind of researcher from the serious historian or policy researcher to the average resident interested in the history of their neighborhood.”   The HSLB is an especially valuable resource for studying the history and preservation of the Roosevelt Naval Base, Terminal Island, in Long Beach, an important example of Williams’ architectural work.

The Huntington Library: The Maynard L. Parker Archives

The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, houses the archives of Maynard L. Parker an American architectural photographer who chronicled many Paul Revere Williams’ projects. This collection of Parker’s images consists of over 58,000 photographs, negatives, and other materials relating to mid-20th century American home and garden. Featured in magazines popular from 1940 to 1970 (House Beautiful, Sunset, and House and Garden), these Parker photographs influenced the aspirations of many middle-class consumers.  Now organized and digitized, these photographs are accessible through the library’s web site.


The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is our nation’s official library and also the world’s largest, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps, and manuscripts. Many of these are available to the public online. Hundreds of images of works by Paul R. Williams can be viewed through the easy-to-use web-based search engine keyed to the Library of Congress’ pictorial holdings.  The American Memory Collection is another important source of information at the Library of Congress for any study of Paul R. Williams. It also may be accessed online.

Los Angeles Central Public Library

The L.A. Public Library has extensive resources online that are useful in documenting the development of the African American community in Los Angeles, the personal and professional life of Paul R. Williams and the architectural transformation of the city. Of special help are the online California Index and the Photo Collection. The searchable California Index contains bibliographic entries about people, places, and events that have had a significant impact on life in Southern California. The digital Photo Collection is especially valuable in any study of Williams’ architectural work. The Security Pacific National Bank (SPNB) Collection of historical images of L.A., the Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photograph Collection, and Shades of L.A., an archive representing the contemporary and historic diversity of the city, are all important visual resources.

Memphis Public Libraries & Information Center

The Memphis and Shelby County Room is located at the Central Library. Researchers may view items from the library’s archival and manuscript collections. These materials document the cultural, economic, and historic development of the greater Memphis community. This collection includes information about the planning and building of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and early 20th century African American life in Memphis.

OAC: Online Archive of California

Original documents, letters, diaries, oral histories, and over 120,000 images about California can be accessed from this website. This location is an easy one-stop site for searching and viewing the holdings of hundreds of California museums, libraries and societies. Many of these institutions hold images and documents relating to Paul R. Williams’ life and work in California.

Office of Historic Resources, City of Los Angeles

The Office of Historic Resources in the Department of City Planning coordinates the City of Los Angeles’ historic preservation activities. In 2006 this office was created by merging the Cultural Heritage Commission and the Historic Preservation Division of the Cultural Affairs Department. One of major responsibilities of this group, in partnership with the J. Paul Getty Trust, is to spearhead SurveyLA, the comprehensive Los Angeles Historic Resources Survey Project identifying significant historic resources throughout Los Angeles. They have compiled a list of over 900 buildings that have been designated Historic-Cultural Monuments. A growing number of Paul R. Williams’ buildings that have been added to this list of significant structures deserving of preservation. The list includes the name of the original owner, the address and a photograph.

Pomona Public Library

This public library houses three collections of special interest in the study of Paul R. Williams. The Frasher Foto Postcard Collection, The Pomona Images Collection, and The Pomona Homes Collection are all important visual resources. Many of the images are digitized and available online. Go to their website or OAC for more detailed information about these collections.

Southern California Library

This archive is dedicated to documenting and preserving the histories of everyday people of California and their struggles for social justice. Some of the collections that are of special interest to any study of Paul Revere Williams are:  the Charlotta A. Bass Papers; the California Eagle Photograph Collection (late 1800s-late 1950s); and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles Photograph Collection.  The Housing Authority’s photo collection is an excellent source for images of Williams’ Los Angeles public projects.

University of Memphis Libraries, Department of Special Collections

The Special Collections Department at the University Library houses thousands of postcards and photographs dealing with life in the Mid-South. Of special interest are the Memphis Press-Scimitar Morgue Files from this closed newspaper. These files consist of thousands of clippings and original black and white photographs depicting Memphis life. They also document the development of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and its relationship to the Memphis community. The library also has an extensive microform collection of important African American newspapers including the Tri State Defender and Memphis World.

The UCLA Library: Digital Collections

This Digital Collection at one of the world’s largest research libraries provides easy access to a variety of images relating to all aspects of California cultural history. The Los Angeles Times Photographic Collection is especially helpful to understanding the evolution of the city’s architectural styles. Over 5000 of the 3 million images donated by the LA Times are now digitized. Covering the 1920s through 1990 many of these photographs are now in the public domain.

University of Southern California Libraries: Digital Archive

The USC Digital Archive collects, preserves, and makes accessible digital images of unique Los Angeles and Southern California materials. USC prides itself on providing a one-stop gateway to  its own collections as well as those of many other unique collaborating institutions.  The USC Digital Archive is an important source for Williams’ images.