Born in 1881, Philadelphia native Julian Frances Abele was the unknown black architect that is finally receiving recognition for his architectural accomplishments in this country. He graduated from Philadelphia High School and matriculated to UPenn’s School of Architecture. Abele’s graduation in 1902 was historic for, not only was he at the top of his class, but he was also the school’s first African American alumnus. From Penn, Abele went to Paris and received a diploma in architecture from the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris. He worked for a man named, Horace Trumbauer that was so impressed by him that he arranged for Julian to take the entrance exam for Ecole de Beaux-Arts and funded Abele’s education in Paris. Within three years, Abele was chief designer at Horace Trumbauer. He spent his entire career with Trumbauer’s successful architectural firm. He was a master at French classical architecture and a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1942.
His most notable architectural designs include:
- The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) President’s House
- Harvard University’s Widener Memorial Library
- Philadelphia Free Library (based on the Hotel Crillon on the Place de la Concorde in Paris)
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Duke University’s West Campus and Buildings
Unfortunately, he was not able to see the finished product of Duke University’s West Campus. It was not safe for African Americans to travel down south at that time since it was still segregated. But Duke University does have a portrait of Julian Abele in the Allen Building of the campus.
He traveled to many counties and his architecture inspirations came from the many places he visited (France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and Germany). He married Marguerite Buelle and had three children. He loved to travel and embraced the family life. He died at the age of 69 on April 23, 1950.
Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University, has called for the formation of an advisory board to come up with a plan to give proper recognition to Julian Abele by February 2016. President Brodhead said that “Julian Abele envisioned the physical world of Duke University. It is time to ensure that his legacy is clearly known so that future generations of students and faculty can be inspired by his genius.”
Cox, Kendrick. Philadelphia Tribune (1912-2001) [Philadelphia, Penn] 19 Feb 1993: 5A
The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (Online), Duke to Further Recognize the Black Man Who Designed Many Buildings on Its Campus, 12/22/2015