He was a pioneer, a designer of many of L.A.’s most fashionable celebrity homes, including those of Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. Paul Revere Williams (1894–1980) was one of the most noteworthy draftsmen of his age, and the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects.
Known for designing buildings that conformed to their landscapes rather than transforming the land to fit the building, Williams was the ideal choice to design UCLA’s Botany Building. Situated adjacent to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, the Botany Building was completed in 1959.
Except, as it turned out, it wasn’t quite finished. With the structure set for renovation in 2017, the Getty Research Institute and the USC School of Architecture acquired Williams’ original hand-drafted drawings, previously thought to have been destroyed by fire. Hidden within them, under “Miscellaneous Details,” were plans for a plant-motif mural of glass mosaic in the lobby that was never created, probably due to budget constraints.
Now named the La Kretz Botany Building — in tribute to Morton La Kretz ’48, who generously funded the latest renovation — the building houses a large collection of plant specimens and provides views of the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. Williams’ mural, with its plant motif, would have fit the building perfectly. With that in mind, university leadership approved creation of the lost mural as part of the renovation. At last, the architect’s vision would be beautifully brought to life.
Today, the 285-square-foot glass mosaic begins outside and snakes in through the building’s entrance, creating a seamless transition from outside to inside. Its design is reminiscent of the banana-leaf motif on the signature wallpaper inside the nearby Beverly Hills Hotel, where Williams did extensive work and for which he designed the iconic logo now recognized around the world.
As you walk into the building, the mural foreshadows what’s inside. It’s a place where students and scholars immerse themselves in the botanical world, one as magical, mysterious and compelling as the almost lost work of art that invites you to explore it.
Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Spring 2023 issue.