In late 1922, the young African-American architect Paul R. Williams opened his office in the Los Angeles Stock Exchange Building. He had several residential commissions in hand; one was for a large house in Hancock Park, which he had obtained from the firm of John C. Austin, his previous employer. Austin presented the commission to his young associate with the admonition, "Let this be a starter for your new office." From this beginning, within a few years Williams successfully established an architectural practice with commissions for public buildings (schools, fire stations, police stations), a church, and houses for the middle and upper middle classes.
Los Angeles in the twenties was experiencing one of its several great booms, and so this was an advantageous moment for an architect to start a practice in Southern California. This was true in spite of the fact that most of the commercial commissions went to large, well-established firms, such as those of Morgan, Walls and Clements, Claude Beelman, Walker and Eisen, Albert C. Martin, Allison and Allison, or John and Donald Parkinson, while most of the residential commissions fell into the hands of architects who had the right social connections, such as Reginald D. Johnson, Roland Coate, Gordon B. Kaufmann, and H. Roy Kelley. It was not easy for a young architect, and a black one at that, to break into this architectural scene. However, not only did Williams indeed succeed, but by the early thirties, he was acknowledged as one of the city's leading residential architects. And by the end of the thirties, his practice had expanded beyond houses to include public and commercial commissions like government-sponsored low-cost housing and, later, war housing. In the years after World War II, his commercial practice expanded even more, with buildings across the country and in Mexico and South America.
From the early 1920s on, Williams established an impressive array of "firsts" as an African-American architect. He was the first to become a member of the American Institute of Architects (the Southern California Chapter) in 1923 and, in 1957, the first elected as one of its Fellows. From 1920 on, various mayors of Los Angeles appointed him to the city's planning commissions as well as to a wide variety of other public bodies. At the state level, he served on the California Housing Commission, the California Redevelopment Commission, and the California Beautiful Commission. On the national scene, presidents from Herbert Hoover