Trumbauer, Horace (1868-1938)




  • Philadelphia

NC Work Locations:

Styles & Forms:

Georgian Revival; Gothic Revival

As noted in the entry for Julian Abele, Horace Trumbauer (December 28, 1868-September 18, 1938) was a leading Philadelphia architect who was the architect of record for the development of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, for which the black architect Abele was the chief designer.

A Philadelphia native, Trumbauer learned the profession in part as an apprentice draftsman and through self-education. His apprenticeship in the office of architects G. W. and W. D. Hewitt introduced him to the possibilities of designing grand residences, an avenue he would pursue with success. He started his own firm in 1890 and excelled in designing Gilded Age palaces that exhibited the new wealth and status of an emerging entrepreneurial elite. The firm’s work was primarily located in Philadelphia and its expanding suburbs, New York City, and in the summer showplace of Newport, Rhode Island. Among his best known works was the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Although some of his contemporaries engaged in early modernist trends, Trumbauer’s firm maintained a Beaux-Arts approach.

The firm presumably gained the commission for Duke University because Trumbauer and Abele had worked with Durham tobacco tycoon James B. Duke in planning his residence on Fifth Avenue in New York City, adding to his Newport mansion, and designing a palatial house for his estate in New Jersey, which was never built. The Duke University commission was the firm’s only one in the South, its largest project, and probably the most welcome—coming as the economy of the nation slipped into the Great Depression. Trumbauer had obtained a license to practice architecture in North Carolina in 1925 with certificate #177.

Quoted by an employee as saying “I hire my brains,” and as noted in his biography by Sandra L. Tatman in “Philadelphia Architects and Buildings”, Trumbauer employed a number of talented designers, many of them recent graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Architecture. Among these was Julian Abele, who in 1902 became the first black graduate of that school. Trumbauer brought Abele into the firm in 1906, immediately upon Abele’s return from a trip to Europe, financed by Trumbauer, where the young architect studied in Paris and attended classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. For a prominent white architect to establish such a relationship with a man of color was a remarkable step in early twentieth century America. Trumbauer promoted Abele to chief designer in 1908; in that capacity Abele was evidently the designer of much of the Trumbauer oeuvre. Abele remained in that position until Trumbauer’s death in 1938, after which he continued as a partner in the firm under its new name, Office of Horace Trumbauer.

For many years, chiefly the Trumbauer name was associated with the Duke project, but in recent decades Julian Abele has received scholarly and public attention, with the university celebrating his legacy. See the Julian Abele biographical entry for a list of buildings Abele designed at Duke as part of Trumbauer’s firm.

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