It takes a special architect to design homes for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Lon Chaney Sr, Julie London and Johnny Weissmuller, and Paul R. Williams was certainly special. Born in Los Angeles towards the end of the 19th Century and orphaned before he reached 7, he became the first certified African-American architect west of the Mississippi in 1921 and the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects two years later.
He became famous for the private homes that he designed in the Hollywood Hills for stars like Sinatra and Ball and as the movies grew ever bigger, his influence in the area grew, with over 2,000 private L.A. homes designed by him. No wonder he was called the ‘Architect to the Stars’.
If you’re planning on trying to catch a glimpse of Paul R. Williams’ work, here are some of his most celebrated homes and where you can find them:
Samuel Zagon House – 3222 Benda Place, Tarzana, CA 90068
Samuel Zagon was a celebrity lawyer who hired Williams to design him a Hollywood home fit for a movie star, and it must have worked because in the 1960s it was bought by one of cinema’s true greats, Marlon Brando. With 16 rooms and one secret room accessible behind a bookcase, it’s a suitably epic home and has also been owned by the likes of David Carradine, Barbara Hershey and Frank Zappa.
Johnny Weissmuller Residence – 414 St. Pierre Road, Los Angeles, CA 90077
Weissmuller may have spent much of his movie career living in trees in the jungle as the most famous Tarzan of the silver screen, but when he wanted a home designing in real life, he aimed for something a bit more grand. With a pink palace, giant electric waterfall, 300ft swimming pool and a ballroom, he certainly got that. After all, it was grand enough to be owned by Mick Jagger later on.
Bert Lahr Residence – 9555 Heather Road, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
You might not have heard of Bert Lahr, but you’ll definitely have seen him in a film because he was the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. This home showed off how Williams could also do landscaping, giving Lahr an Oz-like garden full of avocado, lemon, lime, grapefruit, almond, and fig trees – but no Yellow Brick Road. Other owners of this home include Ozzy Osbourne and Paul McCartney.
Leon and Stella B. Errol House – 4701 Sancola Avenue, Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Over in Toluca Lake, this home was designed for Australian-born comic actor Leon Errol and is a great example of the more traditional home that Williams could design. It’s also notable for having been owned by William Holden, who hosted the wedding reception for future President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan. Another famous former owner is Denzel Washington.