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.
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.