Paul R. Williams, American Architect

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Drawing of Los Angeles Civil Center Mall. (Getty Images)

You may not know the name Paul R. Williams, but if you've ever been to Los Angeles, you've probably admired his work. Born in the City of Angels on February 18, 1894, the young Williams faced immense hardship early in life, losing both parents to tuberculosis by the age of four. After a stint in foster care, Williams was adopted by a family friend who recognized his precocious intelligence. As a young man, he grew to love the architecture of Los Angeles but was discouraged from studying architecture by his teachers, who warned him, "Your own people can't afford you, and white clients won't hire you."

Fortunately, Williams didn't listen. He enrolled in the Los Angeles School of Art and Design before earning a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Southern California, becoming the first certified black architect in the western United States and the first black member of the American Institute of Architects. He got his big break when he secured a job with famous architect John C. Austin, known for his work on the Griffith Observatory and the Los Angeles City Hall, among others.