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Black History Makers: Celebrating the legacy of trailblazing architect Paul Revere Williams

Paul Revere Williams on mural
La Concha
Posted at 1:51 PM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 00:29:20-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Paul Revere Williams made sure home meant Nevada for African Americans, during a time when racism was fierce. An architect, he designed first-class buildings while being treated as a second-class citizen.

Williams was born in Los Angeles on February 18, 1894. His career boomed throughout the 1920s and beyond, and in 1923 he became the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects.

He designed for popular entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. But despite Williams' wealthy clients, he saw a need to design and build homes for African Americans.

Carver Park in Henderson was the first segregated housing development built by Williams in the 1940s. He then built a housing development for African Americans in Berkley Square, on the west side of Las Vegas.

"This was the only place in Las Vegas that families could live and have a home if you were African American," said Ruth Eppenger D'Hondt, who's lived in Berkley Square since 1959.

She found hope in Berkley Square, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Williams didn't just build for African Americans in Las Vegas, his talents reached the Strip, where he designed several properties including the La Concha Motel. Today, the La Concha lobby now sits as the visitor center for the Neon Museum.

"He also designed a church that is still there today, the Garden Angel Cathedral," said Claytee White, the director of oral history research for UNLV Libraries.

Despite his talent, Williams was living in an era where the color of your skin mattered.

"He taught himself to draft upside down so that he could sit across the desk from his clients, and not have to sit beside them," White said.

Williams designed some of the most well-known and historically significant homes and buildings in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The Paul Revere Williams Project aims to increase knowledge about the architect and his work. Learn more about him here.

This Black History Month, Williams is featured on a mural at the Neon Museum that pays tribute to diverse and dedicated icons who helped mold Las Vegas' history.