Lobby Exhibition, 1947 Floral Motif on Column

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Julian F. Abele (1881-1950)

Julian Francis Abele, one of the first university-trained African-American architects, received little recognition during his lifetime despite his many significant contributions to the profession. Although declared "certainly one of the most sensitive designers anywhere in America" by Fiske Kimball, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Abele remained virtually unknown outside Philadelphia's architectural community for many years. Today we appreciate Abele as one of the early twentieth century's most seasoned designers of revival buildings, who rejuvenated long-dormant styles as vital forms of architectural expression.

Born in Philadelphia in 1881, Abele lived most of his life in the City. As a boy, he attended the Institute for Colored Youth (900 block of Bainbridge Street) and Brown Preparatory School. As a student in evening classes at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art in 1898, he won the Groff Prize for Architectural Design. That same year, he enrolled in the prestigious architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania, where he won several awards and served as the president of the Architectural Society. In 1902, Abele became the first African American to graduate from that program. He subsequently studied design at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and worked for noted architect Louis C. Hickman. After leaving Hickman in 1903, Abele traveled extensively. In Europe he encountered eighteenth century French architecture, which he favored throughout his career.

In 1906, Horace Trumbauer recruited the young architect to work at his celebrated Philadelphia firm. Abele quickly proved himself. When a local architect asked whether Abele might be released from his contract, Trumbauer replied: "I of course would not want to lose Mr. Abele." In 1909, Abele was appointed chief designer, a remarkable feat for one of his age and race. In 1925, he married Marguerite Bulle, a French woman. They had two children, Nadia and Julian, Jr.

As Trumbauer's chief designer, Abele worked on designs for dozens of important residential, civic, and commercial landmarks. Trumbauer's stepdaughter remembered that Abele was "invaluable in consultation" with her father. The "brilliant" Abele once stated that the "lines are all Mr. Trumbauer's, but the shadows are all mine." Despite his high profile within Trumbauer's firm, the designer did in fact remain in the shadows outside the firm. After Trumbauer's death in 1938, Abele signed his own designs for the first time, but never received the credit he deserved. At his death in 1950, few knew that architect Julian F. Abele had forever changed Philadelphia's skyline and American architecture.

Floral Motif on Column
Floral Motif on Column
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