Oral Histories

Interview of John D. Williams

African American architect and educator who designed homes, public buildings, and commercial spaces, including LAX Bradley International Terminal, the Compton Police Department building, and Ujima Village public housing project.
African-American Architects of Los Angeles: John D. Williams
African American Architects of Los Angeles
African American History
Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Design
Henderson, Wesley H.
Williams, John D.
Persons Present:
Williams and Henderson.
Place Conducted:
Williams's office in Los Angeles
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Wesley Henderson, B.S., Art & Design, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Master of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Ph.D., Architecture, UCLA. Henderson prepared for the interview by having a pre-interview with Williams, interviewing his associates, and relying on the background research for his UCLA doctoral dissertation, "Two Case Studies of African American Architects' Careers in Los Angeles, 1890-1945: Paul R. Williams, FAIA, and James H. Garrott, AIA."
Processing of Interview:
Alex Cline, editor, edited the interview. He checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed. Williams reviewed the transcript. He verified proper names and made minor corrections. Cline prepared the table of contents. Kristian London, editor, assembled the biographical summary and interview history. Derek DeNardo, editorial assistant, compiled the index.
5.85 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This project documents the work of selected African American architects who have enhanced the built environment, principally in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Influenced by earlier pioneers such as Paul R. Williams, these individuals overcame bias and discrimination to create structures which have become emblematic of the uniqueness of local architecture.
Family moves to Los Angeles around 1930; first awareness of architecture during high school drafting class; works for Richard J. Neutra in a National Youth Administration program; volunteers for the Enlisted Reserve Corps; sent to North Africa and Italy as first sergeant of an all-black battalion; racial tension between black soldiers and Italian prisoners of war; conditions for African Americans in Los Angeles before and after World War II; attends the University of Southern California (USC) in 1949; professors in design, architecture, and landscape architecture at USC; decision to avoid working with developers; passes the California state licensing exam for architects; other African American architects in Los Angeles during the fifties; designing the Harrison-Ross Funeral Home; designing multifamily housing for nonprofit entities; difficulties obtaining commissions as an African American architect; designs the Kedren Community Mental Health Center; the Florence-Firestone Multipurpose Service Center; architects who influenced Williams; working with Daniel L. Dworsky and William L. Pereira on the Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport; teaching position at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; architects' responsibility to become more involved in social and political issues.