Norman Houston, Paul Williams, Walter Gordon. The first black architectural firm.
Typewritten Letter Signed, Norman Houston, Paul R. Williams, Walter A. Gordon, one page, quarto, . On stationery with a colored illustration of a cameraman filming a residential lakefront neighborhood. Two tall palm trees are drawn in the left margin. “Greetings to Walter White from California” is written in calligraphy at the bottom of the page. A tribute letter to Walter White commemorating his 25 years of service to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“The greatest contribution a man can make during his sojourn on earth is a Service to fellow man. For twenty-five years your life has been dedicated to this service as Secretary of the N.A.A.C.P.
“Over the period of years your gleaming personality, your friendly approach to the major problems of the day, your vision and outlook as to the future of the Negro as a citizen, and your determination to accomplish your goals makes us recognize you as our outstanding leader.
“We feel particularly grateful for the contribution you have made in the field of race relations through the Motion Picture Industry. The breaking up of the old traditions brings forth a new and better day.
“Hard work and knotty problems appear to have made you younger during the past 25 years-it is evidence of your capacity in the position you hold. We sincerely hope for a continuance of your good health and your willingness to serve mankind.”
Paul Revere Williams, known as the “architect to the stars,” was the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He designed homes for Tyrone Power, Barbara Stanwyck, Anthony Quinn, Bert Lahr, Danny Thomas, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. In the late 1940’s he reworked the Beverly Hills Hotel, adding some buildings, redesigning others, and splashing all with the now trademark pink and green.
Williams opened his firm in 1922, at the age of 28. Just how bold a move that was comes from later descriptions by Williams himself. He learned how to draw upside down, he relates, so his white clients wouldn’t have the discomfort of having to sit next to him. He built houses in areas he himself could not live.
Williams used salemanship, charm and doggedness not only to get work but to do wonderful buildings of all types. He designed over 2,000 private residences and became an eminent society architect in Southern California. By mid-century, he was the last word in elegant tradionalism. Williams also designed major public buildings such as the Los Angeles International Airport, the Shrine Auditorium, the Hollywood YMCA, the Saks Fifth Avenue Store in Beverly Hills and the Los Angeles County Court House.
Norman Houston, who also signed this letter, was Vice President of Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Walter Arthur Gordon was the first African American to receive a doctorate of law from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school. During his long career he was a police officer, opened a law office in Oakland, California, was branch president of the Berkeley NAACP (in the 1930s), was appointed Governor of the United States Virgin Island, and was a Federal District Judge. Then Governor (and later Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) Earl Warren asked him to head a team to go to Los Angeles to evaluate the Zoot Suit Riots (between Mexican American youths and servicemen) in Los Angeles in 1943.
The three men were long time friends.
This item is associated with these categories in our inventory:
- Black History