The Legacy of Two Important African Americans and their LA Homes

Nov 28, 2010 by Lisa Newton

A portion of the Mid-Wilshire area is one of Los Angeles’ oldest neighborhoods.

It was and still predominantly consists of socioeconomically upper-middle-class demographics–more specifically, it’s always been a well known African-American enclave, and to a certain extent, it still is.

This particular section of Los Angeles, also known as “Mid-City,” has remained ethnically diverse. The demographics of Mid-City–zip code–90019, are:

28.27% of people are black, 26.70% are white, 12.22% are Asian, 0.96% are native American, and 32.15% claim ‘Other’. 47.94% of the people claim Hispanic ethnicity (meaning 52.06% identify as non-Hispanic).

Yesterday, I visited two Historical Landmark houses that originally belonged to two Black gentlemen–both who were extremely prominent and have left their indelible mark on our cultural, historical, and storied history.

Located at 1262 South Victoria Avenue is the former residence of William Grant Still, an African-American classical composer who wrote more than 150 compositions. Born in Mississippi in 1895, Still’s youth was filled with music, and he soon taught himself how to play the clarinet, saxophone, oboe, double bass, cello and viola.

Later, with more formal training, Still started composing his own music; by 1931, Still’s first major composition, Symphony No. 1, was performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, a first for an African American.

In 1936, he was the first Black man to conduct a major American symphony orchestra–the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And in 1949 his opera, Troubled Island, which was a collaboration between Still, his wife, Verna Arvey, and Langston Hughes, was performed by the New York City Opera, making it the first opera performed and produced by a major Stage company, for a black individual.

Of course nowadays, race, gender, creed and ethnicity are part of LA’s rich cultural mix, but back then, African American’s faced tremendous prejudice, hate, and were denied many of the rights we now take for granted.

Still eventually made his way to Los Angeles after serving in the Navy during World War I. Afterward, he began to arrange original music for films.

These included:

Pennies from Heaven, the 1936 film starring Bing Crosby and Madge Evans, and Lost Horizon, a 1937 film starring Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt and Sam Jaffe.

Although Still’s house, which looks much different today than it did in years past, is a bit unassuming.

Nonetheless, Los Angeles’ Cultural Heritage Board declared his property a Los Angeles Cultural-Historical Landmark, #169; two years before his death because of Still’s contribution to the culture of Los Angeles and the world.

His music legacy will live on forever. The older photo is courtesy of Big Orange Landmark.

A little further down the same street at 1690 South Victoria Avenue is Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Landmark #170, the previous home of African American architect Paul Williams. Williams was born in 1894 and attended several LA schools.

Thereafter, Williams became a certified architect in 1921, and the first certified African American architect west of the Mississippi.

Over the years, Williams designed more than 2,000 private homes in the LA area, most of which are in the Hollywood Hills and Mid-Wilshire districts, and include his own home pictured above, which is reflective of Williams style.

He worked to please his clients, specializing in using clean lines and sophisticated simplicity into his designs, which was extremely important to the work in and itself, but more importantly, it’s what his constituency wanted.

In 1923, Williams became the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects.

His client list included:

Barron Hilton, Frank Sinatra Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Lon Chaney, Sr., Lucille Ball, Julie London, Tyrone Power, Barbara Stanwyck, Bert Lahr, Charles Cottrell, Will Hays, Zasu Pitts, and Danny Thomas.

Other important buildings that Williams contributed to included:

  • Hollywood YMCA
  • First Church of Christ, Scientist (Reno, Nevada)
  • Los Angeles County Courthouse
  • Los Angeles County Hall of Administration
  • United Nations Building, Paris, France
  • Roberts House Ranch, Malibu, CA (The remains of the burned down structures can be visited on the Sostice Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.)
  • Saks Fifth Avenue Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills California
  • Arrowhead Springs Hotel & Spa, San Bernardino, California
  • Shrine Auditorium (Williams helped prepare construction drawings as a young architect.)
  • Jet-Age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) (In the 1960s as part of the Pereira & Luckman firm and with consulting engineers, Williams helped design this futuristic landmark.)
  • The concrete paraboloid La Concha Motel in Las Vegas (disassembled and moved to the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada for use as the museum lobby 2006).
  • Carver Park Homes Nevada
  • The La Concha Motel, Nevada Source: Wikipedia

Both of these men put their own remarkable imprimatur on the city I call home–Los Angeles.

Subscribe via RSSIf you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or bringing Travelin’ Local home with you via the RSS feed.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Architecture, Culture, SoCal
No Responses to “The Legacy of Two Important African Americans and their LA Homes”

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv Enabled