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Architect makes impact in Las Vegas and beyond

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Posted at 1:50 PM, Feb 15, 2023

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Las Vegas is known for some iconic architecture, from the Bellagio with it's fountain to the Luxor pyramid. But you may not know the story behind one architect who made a major impact on Las Vegas and beyond.

13 Action News anchor Tricia Kean shares one man's story of defying the odds.

YOU KNOW HIS WORK

"You may not know Paul Revere Williams' name, but you certainly know his work," says Tricia. "Yes, that's right, Tricia. You definitely know his work," says Carmen Beals, Associate Curator and Outreach Manager for the Nevada Museum of Art.

Paul Revere Williams made his mark in Las Vegas with his designs in the 1960s.

"Like the La Concha Motel, which now serves as the Neon Museum. Or you can see another beautiful mid-century modern design of his, which is called the Guardian Angel Cathedral," says Beals.

She helped organize the current exhibit at the Nevada State Museum, featuring photos by Janna Ireland called "The Architectural Legacy of Paul Revere Williams In Nevada".

Williams was the first African American certified architect west of the Mississippi and originally made a name for himself in Los Angeles.

"He was known as the architect to the stars, designing homes for Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Cary Grant," says Beals.

But he also did far more modest designs, like Berkeley Square, a subdivision for African Americans in the Historic Westside of Vegas.

"He wanted every socioeconomic class to have the comfort of a home," says Beals.

LASTING MARK

"What do you think his lasting mark here will be in Nevada?" asks Tricia. "I think his lasting mark in Nevada will be the fact that unlike other architects, where you see a particular pattern and you know it's his work, you see a variety of architectural styles from Paul Revere Williams," says Beals.

She says his designs covered numerous styles, from neoclassical and French Regency and Georgian, to Spanish colonial or mid-century modern. But some of his best-known work is considered so iconic because it was so forward thinking for its time.

"Paul Revere Williams, I think, was a prolific architect," says Aaron Berger, Executive Director of the Neon Museum.

He points out, Williams' La Concha Motel is not only home for the Neon Museum, it's literally the face of the non-profit, serving as the featured design for their logo.

"To pay homage to architecture and innovative architecture and groundbreaking architecture is really what Las Vegas is all about. And I think it really represents what the city is in so many ways," says Berger.

As well respected as his work is today, at the height of his career, Williams faced racism on a daily basis.

"And so he came up with fabulous innovative methods such as learning how to draw upside down because he could not sit by the white clients or putting his hands behind his back to avoid the awkwardness of someone not wanting to touch his hand because of the color of his skin," says Beals.

She says that during such an ugly time of segregation in the U.S., Williams himself acknowledged he would never live in any of the beautiful neighborhoods that were home to the stately mansions he designed.

GETTING HIS RECOGNITION

"Does it make you sad that in his lifetime he didn't get the recognition maybe that he's getting today?" asks Tricia. "It does make me sad, but I'm thankful that we have come this far to where we can recognize him," says Beals.

After his death, Williams was awarded the American Institute of Architects' Gold Medal. It's the organization's highest honor, for individuals whose work has a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.

February 18 would have been Williams' birthday. The state is officially naming February 18 as "Paul Revere Williams Day" in Nevada. A special proclamation ceremony is being held at the Neon Museum, Saturday 2/18/2023 at 10:00 A.M. The event is open to the public.