Story of the Goldschmidt House
May 26, 2017 06:57PM
● By Don Kindred
The Goldschmidt House is the only residence in the City of San Clemente that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation comes from the prominence of its architect, Paul Revere Williams.
The house that Paul R. Williams designed unites the great families of the era—the Forsters, Cottons and Hansons —by the wealth and fate of two immigrant Jews from Germany.
Paul R. Williams, “The Architect to the Stars”
Paul Revere Williams was born in Los Angeles and though he was orphaned at the age of four he was fortunate to be raised by a foster mother who devoted herself to his education and to the development of his artistic talent. She taught Paul that he could be and do whatever he set his mind to, regardless of his race. Williams never gave up and with confidence in his strengths, he pursued his architectural education at USC while working with leading design firms in Los Angeles.
Certified as a building contractor in 1915, he was licensed as an architect by the State of California in 1921. In an effort to make his clients more comfortable, he learned to draw his design ideas upside down on the page so he could sit across the table from them instead of by their side. In 1923 he became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Williams designed houses for so many celebrities and film stars, including Frank Sinatra, Tyrone Power, Lon Chaney, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, and Lucille Ball, that he became known as “the architect to the stars”. His practice expanded to include landmark civic and commercial buildings such as Los Angeles International Airport, Saks Fifth Avenue and the Los Angeles County Courthouse. He designed the modern wing of the Beverly Hills Hotel at a time when he was not allowed to stay the night there due to his race.
Paul Williams was a social activist for health and welfare of young people and African Americans in Southern California. In 1957 he was elected a Fellow of the AIA, the first African American to be so honored. Paul Williams’s firm completed more than 3,000 projects during his lifetime, not just in California but nationally and internationally.
The Melting Pot: Vintners, Shepherds, Oilmen and a Black Architect
How did “the architect to the stars” come to design a Spanish Colonial Revival home in San Clemente? This is the story of Jewish immigrants from Germany, a Basque shepherd, a land-grant heiress and a Constitutional Amendment.
Herman and Max Goldschmidt were successful vintners and liquor wholesalers in the 1890’s and early 1900’s. Meanwhile, Cornelio Echenique, a Basque farmer, had married a granddaughter of Juan Forster, Isadora, in 1901. In 1906 the Goldschmidt and Forster families were united by a real estate partnership which purchased 12,000 acres of land south of San Juan Capistrano in order to plant vineyards. But when Prohibition started in 1920 they found themselves in the wrong business. The partnership ended. The Goldschmidts kept the land by the coast and Echenique took the inland acreage.
By 1920’s the coast was developing. In 1924 with the help of Herman Goldschmidt’s son, Adlai, they sold 2,000 acres of their prime ocean-front land to a syndicate led by millionaire financier and oilman Henry Hamilton Cotton. The founder of San Clemente, Ole Hanson, arrived in the summer of 1925 and created “the Spanish Village by the Sea.” Hanson decreed that all homes must be built in Spanish Colonial Revival style with white stucco walls and red tile roofs.
Hanson filed the first tract map and began selling lots in 1925. Adlai Goldschmidt bought for himself a 28,400 square foot lot at the end of the proposed “Avenida La Cuesta” (“the ridge”), the highest lot in all of San Clemente at the time. No road had yet been cut so high up the ridge, but Goldschmidt would have known the lay of the land from riding there on horseback. Goldschmidt was still running cattle on the land he had leased back and from this ridge he could watch over his ranch.
This hacienda overlooking the ranch was not to be Adlai Goldschmidt’s home. His home was near the homes of his father Herman and his uncle Max in the prestigious neighborhood of Los Angeles known as Holmby Hills. Their homes had been designed by the rapidly rising young African American architect Paul R. Williams who was just a few months younger than Adlai Goldschmidt. At about the same time, Williams had also designed a home in Los Angeles for the Forster family.
So, Adlai Goldschmidt invited his friend Paul R. Williams to build him a second home on his land in San Clemente. In1928 he secured building permit # 14 for his 4,800 Spanish Colonial Revival hacienda with views of the new city to the south, the ocean to the west and the grazing land to the north.
Some of the architectural details that Williams became famous for can be seen in the Goldschmidt house: a secret wet bar (good idea during Prohibition), an intricately carved eleven-foot coffered ceiling, arched doorways, coved ceilings, corbelled arches, a two-sided herringbone fireplace, thick walls, plaster crown molding, hidden roll up screens in the round library, recessed shelves, white oak floors, a hydronic heating system, porcelain and glass door knobs, wrought iron curtain rods, fourteen-inch picket tiles and dragon sconces.
Living areas include the main room overlooking Catalina Island, the family room with a view to the north and a 420 square foot office that can be used as an entertainment center. There are five bedrooms. There are four balconies: the sunset tower, the Juliet balcony, a classic Monterey and a large sundeck. The landscaping includes a vineyard, an orchard of fruit trees and an organic vegetable garden.
Because it exemplifies Paul R. William’s style, the home has been recognized as one of 14 Landmark properties by the City of San Clemente. It is the only residence in the city listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This means that changes to the exterior would have to be done in keeping with Spanish Colonial Revival Standards, while interior changes are at owner’s discretion. The residence is also protected by a Mills Act contract with the City of San Clemente which reduces property taxes.
Three presidents of the San Clemente Historical Society, Jim Kempton, Dena Van Slyke and Lee Van Slyke, have been involved in the restoration of the Goldschmidt House. Paul William’s legacy of style lives on in this hacienda overlooking the sea. We look forward to the next chapter in this wondrous story that began 111 years ago.