Image Ownership: Public Domain
The legacy of architect Julian Francis Abele was brought into focus in the mid-1980s when in the midst of a student protest at Duke University his great grandniece reminded the campus community that her long unsung ancestor was responsible for the eleven original architectural drawings for the campus. Born in Philadelphia on April 21, 1881, Abele entered the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts at age sixteen and, as the school’s highest ranking student and only black, graduated with a certificate in architectural design in 1898. He excelled in his studies at the University of Pennsylvania where he was elected president of the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Society and graduated with a degree in architecture in 1902.
Hired by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer in 1902, he set about designing mansions and country homes for the wealthy elite mainly along the Eastern Seaboard, large public buildings like the Philadelphia Free Library and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, churches, mausoleums, banks, stores, school buildings, hotels, and apartments. Late in his career as chief designer for Horace Trumbauer he joined the T-Square Club and was elected to the American Institute of Architects.
Abele, an unassuming fair-skinned black man who lived in a white world, was careful to avoid situations that potentially could cause him embarrassment or humiliation because of his race. While his employer, Mr. Trumbauer, who dropped out of school as a teenager, brought in the clients, Abele worked quietly in the background as the most successful black architect of his era. Abele died in his hometown of Philadelphia on April 18, 1950.
San Diego State University