1881 - 1950

Julian Francis Abele

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Abele was educated at the Institute for Colored Youth and the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, before enrolling in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts (now Stuart Weitzman School of Design) in 1898. Abele received a B.A. in architecture in 1902 and was the first African American graduate of the program. Throughout college, he worked as a designer for Louis Hickman and upon graduation was engaged by architect Horace Trumbauer. Trumbauer encouraged and purportedly financed Abele’s three years of study abroad in Europe, which strengthened his affinity for the Beaux-Arts style.

Returning to Trumbauer’s firm in 1906, Abele was promoted to a senior designer in 1908. He contributed to hundreds of projects including the Widener Memorial Library (1915) at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1919-1928) in Pennsylvania, and estates in Newport, Rhode Island, and New York City. From 1924 to 1950 Abele provided campus plans and designed more than thirty structures at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he enlarged the university’s existing East Campus and designed the West Campus, favoring the Georgian style for the former and the Gothic style for the latter. Following Trumbauer’s death in 1938, Abele led the firm with William Frank. He was admitted to the American Institute of Architects in 1942 and died at his home in Philadelphia eight years later at the age of 69. In 2016 Duke University renamed the main West Campus quadrangle after Abele.

Photo Courtesy Duke University Archives