Guide to the Julian Abele Reference Collection, 1974-2009


Julian Abele was the chief designer for Horace Trumbauer's architectural firm in Philadelphia, PA. He designed the buildings for the Duke University campus, including Duke Chapel. The reference collection includes articles, correspondence, clippings, printed and genealogical material, and other files related to Abele.

Collection Details

Record Group
Julian Abele reference collection
Duke University. University Archives
0.5 Linear Feet
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Material in English

Collection Overview

The Julian Abele reference collection includes articles, correspondence, clippings, printed and genealogical material, and other files related to Julian Abele, his work, his family, and African American architects.

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Collection is open for research.

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Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], Julian Abele Reference Collection, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Chronology and Genealogy, Family Information [Abele and Cook families], 1985-1986, undated
Box 1
Copies of Letters and Articles on Duke Architecture [originals held in Duke University Archives]
Box 1
Notes and Articles on Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele
Box 1
Select Bibliography: Julian Abele
Box 1
Box 1
Correspondence and Notes: Exhibit Book, 1999
Box 1
Exhibit Publicity and Thank-You Notes, 2000
Box 1
Images (xeroxed copies)
Box 1
"Spire and Spirit," by Alice Phillips, 1974
Box 1
"The Discovery of an Architect," by William E. King, published in Southern Cultures 2009 Spring issue
Box 1
NC Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects: Awards Program, 1995
Box 1
Abele research by Mason Barnett, 1986
Box 1
Printed information and clippings, 1997-2004
Box 1
Oral history interviews, Athaneum, PA, 1989-1990, 2000

Interviews with Julian Abele, Jr., John Cook V, Nadia Abele Jones, Robert Harris, Joseph Anton, Cogley Jones, Sr., Joan Kowalewska Yelcick, Henry Magaziner, Jr., James Johnson, and Valentine Lee, Jr. Interviews were conducted by Drek Wilson.

Box 1
Photocopies from University of Pennsylvania Archives, undated
Box 1
Images and articles (photocopies) of Abele and Trumbauer buildings, undated
Box 1
Clippings, Horace Trumbauer obituary, 1938, 1992-2002, undated
Oversize-folder 1

Historical Note

Julian Francis Abele was born in 1881 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest of eight children in a prominent African American family, and attended the Institute for Colored Youth, Brown Preparatory School, and the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art before studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He was the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania when he did so in 1902 at age 21.

In 1906, Abele began working as an assistant to the chief designer of the architecture firm of Horace Trumbauer. In 1909, Abele became the chief designer. Around that time, he designed a home for James Buchanan Duke in New York City. Duke was impressed with the Trumbauer firm's work, and they were hired to design and oversee the building of West Campus when Trinity College became Duke University in 1924.

The design and construction of Duke's campus was a massive undertaking, and Julian Abele took the lead in much of the design work. As was common practice, his architectural drawings were signed with the name of the firm of Horace Trumbauer and not his own name. He worked on most of the Gothic style buildings on West Campus, including the Chapel, the library, the football stadium, the gymnasium, the medical school, the hospital, and the school of religion (now the Divinity School). He largely oversaw the work from Philadelphia over the more than two decades he was involved with Duke's campus; although it is generally accepted that he did not travel to Durham or the segregated South, some evidence exists to suggest he may have visited the campus at one point. He worked on a library addition and signed a drawing for Cameron Indoor Stadium after Trumbauer's death, as well as the Allen Building, which was incomplete at the time of his death.

Abele designed and contributed to many buildings in the Classical and Beaux Arts styles, including Harvard University's Widener Library, the Philadelphia Free Library, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (in collaboration with the firm of Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary), and the New York Evening Post building. The Great Depression took a toll on the firm of Horace Trumbauer, which specialized in large, luxurious buildings and residences, and when Trumbauer died in 1938, Abele and the remaining architect, William Frank, kept the name of the firm to reduce uncertainty. However, Abele did begin signing his own name to his drawings.

Julian Abele was close to his sister, Elizabeth Abele Cook, and she and her children lived with him for a time in the 1910s and 1920s. Abele married Marguerite Bulle, a French musician who immigrated to Philadelphia, in 1925, and the couple had three children: Julian Junior, Marguerite Marie, and Nadia. Marguerite Marie died at the age of 5, and the Abeles separated in 1933. In 1942, Julian Abele became a member of the American Institute of Architects. He died in 1950 at the age of 68, of a heart attack.

Although evidence for Abele's involvement in the design and construction of Duke's West Campus existed in the University Archives, including evidence that some University administrators knew of his role and likely his race, his name was not generally known or associated with the design for many years. During the time Abele worked on the design and construction of the campus, Duke University was only open to whites, and Jim Crow laws severely limited the rights and activities of African Americans in the South; if he did visit the campus during that time, he would not have been welcome in many places. His involvement in the work was acknowledged in several sources, but did not become widely known in the Duke community until 1986. That year, students protesting Duke's investment in apartheid South Africa built shanties in front of the Chapel. A student wrote to the Chronicle to complain that the ugliness of the shanties "violates our rights as students to a beautiful campus." Susan Cook, a Duke student and Julian Abele's great grand-niece, wrote a response that claimed her great grand-uncle, as an African American and the designer of the campus, would not have objected to the shanties as he was himself "a victim of apartheid" in his own country. This letter brought Julian Abele's name to the attention of the student body and many others who had not known of his existence and involvement in the design and building of Duke, and in the years that followed his contribution has been recognized and honored in a variety of ways. In 1987 the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association began the Julian Abele Awards and Recognition Banquet and unveiled a commissioned portrait of the architect. This portrait was hung in the foyer of the Allen Building, the first of a black person at Duke. This portrait now hangs in the Gothic Reading Room of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, a building Abele designed.

Related Material

Horace Trumbauer Architectural Drawings Collection, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.


The Julian Abele Reference Collection was compiled by the University Archives from a variety of sources.

Processing Information

Processed by Kimberly Sims, January 2013

Encoded by Kimberly Sims, January 2013

Biographical note added by Tracy M. Jackson, November 2015

Accession UA2013-0013 added by Tracy M. Jackson, May 2016.