Black History Month :: Spotlight on Julian Abele

Julian Abele
(1881–1950) African-American Architect

Julian Abele (April 30, 1881 – April 23, 1950) was a prominent African-American architect, and the chief designer in the offices of architect Horace Trumbauer. He contributed to the design of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and designed much of the campus of Duke University.

In 1902, Abele became the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and worked for architect Louis C. Hickman. Future employer Horace Trumbauer sponsored his travel in Europe, but, contrary to legend, there is no record of Abele having attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Abele returned to Philadelphia and joined Trumbauer's firm in 1906. He served as chief designer from 1909 to 1938.

Duke Chapel (1934)
The Philadelphia Museum of Art was a collaboration between Trumbauer's firm and that of Zantzinger, Borie and Medary. While another Trumbauer architect, Howell Lewis Shay, is credited with the building's plan and massing, the presentation drawings are in Abele's hand. It was not until after Trumbauer's death that Abele signed his architectural drawings, or claimed credit for designing buildings at Duke University in North Carolina.

Architectural rendering of East Campus by Julian Abele
Abele played a pivotal role at the Trumbauer firm, but modern writers have been careless, sometimes crediting him with buildings from before he even joined the firm. The actual extent of his individual contribution probably will never be known.