Reginald Johnson was born in New York, in 1882. His family came to Los Angeles, where his father was a bishop in the Episcopal Church. He attended architecture school in Los Angeles and worked for a San Francisco firm before joining the practice of Gregory Ain.
Reginald Johnson began to lean further in the direction of Spanish Revival and Monterey styles that were so popular in Los Angeles during the 1920’s and 30’s, particularly among the wealthiest clients, who preferred the ostentatious signs of their fortunes to be showcased in a more traditional form. His excellent interpretations of these styles brought him noteworthy commissions, and won him wide acclaim. His design for the Charles Paxton house in Pasadena captured the highest award given by the AIA for Best House of the Year, in 1929. His client Charles Paxton was also recognized by the AIA, for his exceptional contribution to maintaining the integrity of Johnson’s design. With the aid of his assistant Paul R. Williams (who built his first home while working for Johnson), his firm Johnson, Coate, and Kaufmann built St Paul’s Cathedral, where his father was bishop. Johnson also designed All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena (1923), St. Alban’s Episcopal Church (1931) in Westwood, and the Post Office (1937) and Biltmore Hotel (1927) in Santa Barbara as well as many lavish private homes throughout the state. Perhaps one of his most elaborate of these estates was the one built for the wife of William Clark, mining magnate, called Bellosguardo, in 1933. Mrs. Clark and her daughter Huguette tore down the original estate during the depression, in order to provide jobs in the local economy. Reginald Johnson was brought in to build his masterpiece in its place, which Huguette bequeathed to Santa Barbara as a museum to house her family’s impressive art collection.
In 1934, Reginald Johnson left his practice after dramatically becoming aware of squalid living conditions among the poor, particularly Washington DC. He spent his later years advocating urban rehabilitation, slum clearance, and public housing. As a means to this end, he shifted to contemporary design, and the principles of his former mentor, Gregory Ain, among others.