Henderson Historical Society Stories

Architect Paul Revere Williams

Paul R. Williams and the Design of the Basic Townsite

Image: HERALD EXAMINER COLLECTION/Los Angeles Public Library

At the peak of its production, BMI had 13,618 workers on-site, dwarfing the 5,250 employed on the Boulder Dam project. At one time, it is estimated that nearly 10% of the total population of Nevada worked at BMI during the plant’s construction and use. At its peak, BMI’s weekly payroll was greater than the monthly payroll at the nearby Hoover Dam.

In 1941, world-renowned architect, Paul R. Williams was commissioned to design a housing development of 1,000 homes for the growing BMI work force, most of whom were living in canvas tents.  Famous for his work with wealthy clients, Williams was known as the “Architect to the Hollywood stars.” Yet Williams had a practical side and he brought his vision to the design of what was known as the Basic Townsite.  Envisioning homes that were comfortable, functional and defined by his love of California flavor, the Basic Townsite was conceived as a company town.

While Williams himself was African-American, the Basic Townsite he designed was closed to the thousands of African Americans who worked at the plant or in local support industries. It is not known whether the issue of segregation was ever brought up in the design phase.  High labor turnover, substandard working conditions at the plant, chlorine gas in the air, and an atmosphere that was not conducive to family life resulted in workers looking for alternative housing and ultimately, the project was never fully occupied.

Williams continued to have a thriving career as an architect and designed over 3,000 buildings, served on many municipal, state and federal commissions, was active in political and social organizations and earned the admiration and respect of his peers.  He was the first African American elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

If you would like to learn more about visit the Paul Revere Williams website.

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