Julian Abele

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Julian Abele
Julian abele.jpg
Julian Abele (photo Duke University Archives)
Born Julian Francis Abele [1]
April 30, 1881
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA
Died April 23, 1950(1950-04-23) (aged 68)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA
Nationality USA
Alma mater Cheyney University (1896)
Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art (PMSIA) (1898)
University of Pennsylvania, Department of Architecture (B.A., Architecture, 1902)
l'Ecole des Beaux Arts (Diplome d'Architecte, 1905) [1]
Occupation architect
Notable work(s) Duke University Campus
Duke University Chapel
Cameron Indoor Stadium
Allen Administrative Building (completed after his death)
Spouse(s) Marguerite Bulle (m.1925) [1]
Children Julian Abele, Jr. (architect)
Marguerite Marie Abele
Nadia Boulanger Abele [1][2]
Parents Charles Abele
Mary Adelaide Jones Abele [1]
Relatives Absalom Jones (Episcopalian minister)
Julian Abele Cook Jr. (judge) [3]
Julian Abele Cook (architect) [3][2]

Julian Abele (April 30, 1881 – April 23, 1950) was a prominent African-American architect, and chief designer in the offices of Horace Trumbauer. He was the primary designer of the west campus of Duke University (1924–54).[4] He contributed to the design of more than 400 buildings, including the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University (1912–15), the Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia (1918–27), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1914–28). Abele's contributions to the Trumbauer firm were great, but the only building for which he claimed authorship during Trumbauer's lifetime was the Duke University Chapel.


Julian Abele was born in Philadelphia into a prominent family. His maternal grandfather was Robert Jones, who in the late eighteenth century founded the city's Lombard Street Central Presbyterian Church. He was also related to Absalom Jones, who established the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in 1794, the first black church in Philadelphia. A cousin, Julian Abele Cook, also practiced architecture and went on to design Howard University, and Abele's son, Julian Francis Abele, Jr. was an architectural engineer.

His temperament and his life defy easy characterization. He was a dedicated francophile, and his wife was French. A devotee of the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as of the University of Pennsylvania football team, he was reserved and always immaculately dressed. One friend noted that even on vacations at the beach he always wore his suit to the boardwalk.

Abele worked in many media: watercolor, lithography, etching, pencil; in wood, iron, gold and silver. He designed and constructed all his own furniture, even doing the petit-point himself. While he knew many historic styles, he seemed to love Louis XIV French most of all.


Presentation drawing (1918) for the Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Although unsigned, this appears to be drawn by Abele.

Abele attended the Quaker-run Institute for Colored Youth,[5] which later became Cheyney University, where he excelled in mathematics,[6] and was chosen to deliver the commencement address. In 1898, he completed a two-year architectural drawing course at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art (PMSIA), where he was nicknamed "Willing and Able." He won a number of awards and, during his senior year, headed the school's Architectural Society.

Abele was the first black student to enroll in the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and became the department's first black graduate in 1902.[6] This achievement was all the more noteworthy for the restrictions black students faced at the university, including not being able to live on campus or dine at the school's cafeteria. He was a classmate and friend of Louis Magaziner.[7]

During the next few years, he attend classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and worked part-time for a local architect. Under the financial sponsorship of Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, he traveled through France and Italy, an experience that was to influence his design work throughout his life.

École des Beaux-Arts[edit]

Abele's descendants assert that he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris during his stay in Europe.[8] But Sandra L. Tatman, co-author of The Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects, 1700-1930, states that there is no record of his having been enrolled at the École.[9] She allows that he may have been permitted to sit in on the atelier there. It also may be significant that Abele listed travel to France, Italy, England, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain on his membership application for the American Institute of Architects, but not study at the École des Beaux-Arts.


In 1906, Abele joined the Trumbauer firm as assistant to chief designer Frank Seeburger. When Seeburger left the firm in 1909, Abele advanced to chief designer. Abele's stature within the firm was no secret; he was the second-highest paid employee.

Following Trumbauer's death in 1938, the firm continued under the name "Office of Horace Trumbauer" until 1950, co-headed by Abele and William O. Frank. Commissions were hard to come by during The Depression and World War II, but the firm completed Cameron Indoor Stadium (1940) at Duke University, and later made additions to Duke's Library (1948), and designed Duke's Allen Administrative Building (1954).

When Abele joined the American Institute of Architecture in 1942, the Philadelphia Museum of Art's director, Fiske Kimball, called him "one of the most sensitive designers in America". Art historian David B. Brownlee studied the 12-year effort to design and build the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He credits Trumbauer architect Howell Lewis Shay with the building's plan and massing, but notes that the final perspective drawings are in Abele's distinctive hand.[10]

Despite being the primary designer of Duke University, Abele was refused accommodations at a Durham hotel during a visit to campus.[7] Additionally, it was not until 1988 that a portrait of him was displayed at the University.


In 1925, at age 44, he married Marguerite Bulle, a French pianist twenty years his junior. They had three children: Julian Abele, Jr., Marguerite Marie Abele (died young), and Nadia Boulanger Abele. His wife left him in 1936, married a musician named Jozep Kowalewski, and had three additional children. Because Abele and his wife never divorced, the Kowalewski children shared in his estate.[2]

He died from a heart attack in 1950, in Philadelphia.[11]


  • The Allen Administrative Building at Duke University, which he designed, was completed after his death.
  • In 1989 the university finally allowed a portrait of Abele on campus, which he was the primary designer of to 1950. It was the first portrait of an African-American displayed to ever be on the campus.[11]
  • On August 17, 2012, construction began on Julian Abele Park, at 22nd & Carpenter Streets in Philadelphia.[12][13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "PENN BIOGRAPHIES: Julian Francis Abele (1881-1950)", University of Pennsylvania Archives
  2. ^ a b c Cf. Tifft 2005
  3. ^ a b Wilson, Dreck Spurlock, African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945, Taylor & Francis, Dec 12, 2003. Cf. p.144 Biographical entry for Julian Abele Cook (1904-1986), an architect. Judge Julian Abele Cook, Jr. is the son of Julian Abele Cook, the son of Julian Abele's sister Elizabeth Rebecca Abele Cook.
  4. ^ "Julian Abele, Architect". Library.duke.edu. 2010-05-26. Retrieved 2012-01-05. 
  5. ^ "75th Anniversary - Julian Abele". Libwww.freelibrary.org. Retrieved 2012-01-05. 
  6. ^ a b Webster, Josephine Faulkner. "Julian Francis Abele (1881-1950)." In Wilson, Dreck Spurlock (Ed.) (2004). African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945, pp. 1-3. Taylor & Francis.
  7. ^ a b Henry Magaziner, son of Abele's U. of P. classmate and friend Louis Magaziner, in a 1989 interview. Quoted in Susan E. Tifft, "Out of the Shadows," Smithsonian Magazine, February 2005.
  8. ^ "75th Anniversary - Julian Abele". Libwww.freelibrary.org. Retrieved 2013-07-04. 
  9. ^ "Abele, Julian (1881 - 1950)"
  10. ^ David B. Brownlee, Making a Modern Classic: The Architecture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1997), pp. 60–61, 72–73.
  11. ^ a b William E. King (2009). "North Carolina Architects & Builders: Abele, Julian Francis (1881-1950)". North Carolina State University Libraries. 
  12. ^ Friends of Julian Abele Park Website
  13. ^ "Julian Abele Park Ribbon Cutting", March 24th, 2009

External links[edit]