Abele, Julian Francis (1881-1950)
Julian F. Abele
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Styles & Forms:
Collegiate Gothic; Georgian Revival
Julian Francis Abele (1881-1950), chief designer of the architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer of Philadelphia, designed the buildings for Duke University as it constructed two new campuses in the transition of Trinity College to a university. With the largesse of James B. Duke and the support of the family philanthropy, the Duke Endowment (est.1924), longstanding Trinity College became the nucleus of a new university. That process included the construction of two adjacent new campuses: a Georgian style Woman’s College on the site of the original Trinity campus in Durham, and a nearby Gothic style campus for undergraduate men and the professional schools. Now called East Campus and West Campus, they opened for students in 1927 and 1930 respectively.
The life and career of the African American Julian Abele are truly enigmatic. He characterized his life “as living in the shadows.” In the Biographical Dictionary of African American Architects, Dreck S. Wilson aptly notes that Abele was the living embodiment of W. E. B. DuBois’ characterization in the classic, The Souls of Black Folk, of “‘double consciousness’: outwardly Black, living in White America, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled stirrings, two warring ideals in one dark body.”
Julian Abele was born into a respected African American family. His father Charles Abele was born a freedman, fought in the Civil War, and worked at the United States Custom House in Philadelphia. His mother Mary Jones Abele was a milliner. Julian graduated in 1897 from Philadelphia’ s acclaimed Institute for Colored Youth, where his Aunt Julia Jones taught drawing, and steered him toward a career in architecture. In 1898 he earned a Certificate in Architectural Design from the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts. In 1902, Abele graduated from the School of Architecture of the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1903 he received a Certificate of Completion in Architectural Design from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In the latter three institutions Abele was the first of his race to earn a certificate or a degree.
Horace Trumbauer, a Philadelphia native who started his own firm in 1890 and obtained a license to practice architecture in North Carolina in 1925 with certificate #177, learned the profession in part as an apprentice draftsman but primarily through self-education. Quoted by an employee as saying “I hire my brains,” Trumbauer brought Abele into the firm in 1906 and promoted him to chief designer in 1908. 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. The depth of the Great Depression was not a propitious time to change the identity and name of an established firm. Abele, indeed, spent his life “in the shadows,” as an educated and talented African American working in a race- and class-conscious environment, and relegated to positions under the name of Horace Trumbauer, as well.
The Trumbauer firm excelled in designing Gilded Age palaces or “statement houses,” which exhibited the new wealth and status of an emerging entrepreneurial class. Its work was primarily located in Philadelphia and its expanding suburbs, New York City, and the summer show place of Newport, Rhode Island. The firm presumably got the commission for Duke University because Trumbauer and Abele had worked with James B. Duke in building his house 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.
For the East Campus, which included some of the original (1892-1923) buildings of Trinity College, the architects employed a Georgian Revival style in red brick with white trim, in a vocabulary and layout reminiscent of the University of Virginia. The Georgian style was selected because of the integration of older buildings and level nature of the land. The official building report notes 6,350,000 cubic feet consisting of eleven buildings—a dominating domed focal point (Baldwin Auditorium) at the end of an open quadrangle flanked by eight matching dormitories and classroom buildings, and two recessed public buildings, a library and a union, on a circular axis. The symmetrical layout with subtle accents gives the feeling of a quiet, secluded campus even though it is located off Main Street in downtown Durham. Access to the Gothic, West Campus is by a 1.5-mile private road.
For the West Campus (1927-1935), laid out on a new site outside the town, the Collegiate Gothic style was selected in consultation with architects and clients. The Gothic campus was built with native volcanic stone from a quarry in Hillsborough chosen for its varied hues and for its economy due to proximity. The physical site of high ground and deep ravines lent itself to a dramatic architectural style, in contrast to the nearby Georgian campus. The official building report notes a West Campus of 12,508,000 cubic feet and a Medical School and Hospital of 4,429,000 cubic feet. Local headlines once proclaimed “Largest Building Permit in the History of the South Issued Today.”
The original Gothic campus consisted of a dominating Chapel, four open and closed quadrangles for dormitories, a student union, library, several classroom buildings, a football stadium, gymnasium, and facilities for the undergraduate Trinity College including an engineering school and five professional schools: Medical with Nursing School and hospital, Divinity, Law, Forestry, and Graduate School. Additions to the original master plan, designed when Julian Abele was with the firm, include various additions to the hospital, a dormitory complex, now Few Quadrangle (1939), a gymnasium, now Cameron Indoor Stadium (1939), a main library addition (1948), and an administration building, now Allen Building (1954). The architectural drawings for the Indoor Stadium are the earliest to have “Office of Horace Trumbauer, Julian Abele, Architect,” on them.
The signature edifice is the Duke Chapel, sited on the highest point with a dominating 210-foot tower uniquely located on the front of the building over the narthex. That dramatic location, along with careful use of Indiana limestone, makes the tower appear taller than it is. The dominating Chapel tower also reflects the wishes of the founder, James B. Duke, as well as the historic ties of the institution with the Methodist Church. In overall plan, the Chapel tower and court with matching arcades on each side unite the open style learning quadrangle of schools and the library to the right facing the Chapel with the open living quadrangle of dormitories, union and gymnasia on the left. One’s first impression of the stone buildings is of sameness but closer inspection reveals purposeful attention to evident differences. Towers of various designs designate important buildings, but no two are alike. Details in the doorways, arches, arcades, stairways and window settings with varying bay arrangements, create a fascinating array of variety. As noted by Catherine W. Bishir in North Carolina Architecture, Abele’s design is a “harmonious marriage of seemingly incongruous elements—the regular Beaux Arts plan of intersecting axes and open and closed quadrangles, and the irregular forms and varied motifs of the late Gothic Revival style.”
A single letter from Horace Trumbauer to George G. Allen, dated June 12, 1926, identifies the source of many of the ideas for the Gothic campus. Allen was going to London to visit the Duke-owned British-American Tobacco Company and Trumbauer listed for him “buildings that were the basis from which the designs of the men’s university were inspired.” The list includes Canterbury, Durham, Chester, Litchfield and Wells Cathedrals, Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Eton College, Glastonbury Abbey, Haddon Hall in Derbyshire and Much Wenlock, Priory, in Shropshire.
Validation of an architect’s supposed intent is not often recorded in writing but one might draw such a conclusion from an account by a distinguished visitor to the campus appearing in the Duke Alumni Register in September 1937. While driving through North Carolina in August 1937, Aldous Huxley, the English novelist, noted “A pleasant but unexciting land” when “all of a sudden, astonishingly, a whole city of gray Gothic stone emerged from the warm pine forest.” He was thrilled by the “academic city” with the dominating “leaping tower” of the huge cathedral, and the “spreading succession of quadrangles.” He called the campus “genuinely beautiful, the most successful essay in neo-Gothic that I know.” Like most visitors, Huxley was unaware that the original campuses of Duke University were designed by the architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer of Philadelphia, where Julian F. Abele, an African American, was chief designer and later successor to the founder of the firm.
Julian F. Abele died from a heart attack, April 18, 1950, in Philadelphia. The last building he designed for Duke University was a new administration building being planned at the time of his death. Now called Allen Building, it essentially completed the original design of the main quadrangle on West Campus. Abele was recognized by the university with the unveiling of his portrait, the first of an African American on campus, in Allen Building on April 21, 1989. At the same time, African American students renamed their annual spring banquet the Julian Abele Awards and Recognition Banquet, and their two principal awards became the Julian Abele Scholarship and the Julian Abele Award for an outstanding black faculty member or administrator. In April 2000 the university centered its 75th Anniversary Celebration on a major exhibit celebrating the life of Julian Abele. The exhibit featured items from the University Archives and original drawings and documents on loan from family and Philadelphia-area repositories.
An intriguing question about Julian Abele remains—Did he personally visit the campus he designed? Family lore and early biographical articles stated that he did not visit the campus in Durham because he did not wish to experience the harsh segregated “Jim Crow” laws of the South. Yet rumors circulated among the local African American community that he did indeed view the campus. Since there are no significant personal papers or official records of the architectural firm extant the question appears unanswerable.
However, Susan Tifft, writing for the Smithsonian Magazine in February 2005, reported that “In the early 1960s, John H. Wheeler, a prominent black banker in Durham, North Carolina, told George Esser, then executive director of the North Carolina fund, that he recalled Abele coming to visit the campus during construction. Moreover, in a 1989 interview, Henry Magaziner, son of Abele’ s friend and Penn classmate Louis Magaziner, recalled Abele telling him that a Durham North Carolina hotel had refused to give him a room during a trip to the university, while accommodating his white associate, William Frank.” Although these are second-hand accounts—one an unlikely source she uncovered and the other a brief exchange buried in a series of interviews on file at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia—Tifft’s thorough research in oral history lends credence to idea that perhaps Abele did view the dramatic and lasting results of his considerable talent. It would be another tragedy of the Jim Crow South if he did not.
- Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
- William Blackburn, The Architecture of Duke University (1939).
- William E. King, “The Discovery of an Architect: Duke University and Julian F. Abele,” Southern Cultures (Winter 2009).
- William E. King, If Gargoyles Could Talk: Sketches of Duke University (1997).
- James T. Maher, Twilight of Splendor: Chronicles of the Age of American Palaces (1975).
- North Carolina Board of Architecture, Record Book 1915-1992, microfilmed by North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Preservation North Carolina and Mark Spano Communications, Inc. in association with University of North Carolina Television, “Far Fetched and Dear Bought: Four Architects That Changed North Carolina” (1997).
- Susan E. Tifft, “Out of the Shadows,” Smithsonian Magazine (Feb. 2005).
- Dreck Spurlock Wilson, ed., African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945 (2004).
- Dates:1954Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:Named for George G. Allen, Chairman of The Duke Endowment, confidante of James B. Duke and longtime university trustee, it is believed to be the last building Abele worked on before his death. Its siting filled in the last unoccupied corner of the original campus plan.
- Dates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:East Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The domed auditorium with portico of six Ionic columns dominates the Georgian style campus from its location at the closed end of the open quadrangle. In 1964 it was named for Alice Mary Baldwin, the first Dean of the Woman' s College and the first female faculty member of Trinity College/Duke University.
- Dates:1939Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:RecreationalNote:The architectural drawings for the Indoor Stadium are the first to be signed Julian F. Abele, Architect. After Trumbauer's death in 1938, Abele and William O. Frank continued the firm under the name Office of Horace Trumbauer. At the time this was the largest basketball arena south of Philadelphia. It was named for Eddie Cameron, longtime coach and athletic director, in 1972.
- Dates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:RecreationalNote:This facility contained a swimming pool, space for intramural activities and a basketball court. In 1958, it was named for Wilbur Wade "Cap" Card, a captain of the Trinity College baseball team, Trinity College/Duke University's first men's basketball coach and first athletic director.
- Dates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Divinity School gained its own visual identity when the Kilgo portico was added in 1965. Originally these two side-by-side classroom buildings had identical arched entrances. The addition of an extended portico with a distinctive stone carving identifying the Divinity School brought that building in line with others in the main quadrangle with prominent identifying stone carvings. A considerable addition was completed at the same time but it was not visible from the Chapel Court.
- Dates:1932Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousNote:The signature building of the University, the chapel is noted for its 210-foot tower, capped with Indiana limestone, which dominates the campus and is visible for miles. The interior Memorial Chapel, honoring the founding family and containing the sarcophagi of Washington, Benjamin N. and James B. Duke, was added to the original plans.
- Dates:1926Location:Braggtown, Durham CountyStreet Address:807 Old Oxford Rd., Bragtown vicinity, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousNote:The small church was designed by the Trumbauer firm and built out the native volcanic stone as a prototype of the Gothic West Campus. The Manufacturers' Record (Aug. 26, 1926) reported that the congregation was to build a $35,000 church of stone from the "Duke University quarry," from plans by Trumbauer, the architect for the university. The congregation was founded in 1836 and worshiped for years in a log church funded by founder William Duke, elder brother of Washington Duke.
- Variant Name(s):Carr Building; Science BuildingDates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:East Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The classroom buildings, identical on the exterior to the six residence halls, are in a parallel arrangement flanking the open quadrangle. The Science Building, renovated to serve as campus Museum of Art from 1969 to 2005, was returned to academic use and named for Dean Ernestine Friedl in 2008.
- Variant Name(s):Alspaugh Hall; Bassett Hall; Brown Hall; Giles Hall; Pegram Hall; Wilson HallDates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:East Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:Six identical residence halls, three on each side, flank the open quadrangle on the Georgian style campus. Construction is of red brick with marble trim and slate roofs. The Faculty Apartments were named for Dean Mary Grace Wilson in 1990.
- Dates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:East Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The building for student services is situated half way down open quadrangle, slightly recessed, fronting a circular ellipse opposite the Library. Its portico of Ionic columns copies the auditorium and the library, giving a sense of diversity and unity among the sameness of the other ten buildings.
- Dates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:Fifteen faculty/administrative houses were planned and most were built along then Myrtle, now Campus Drive, the private road uniting the Woman's College with the new Gothic Campus for undergraduates and the professional schools. The houses were of varying style and were for selected faculty and administrators. The most prominent were the house for the president, now used by the Admissions Office, and the one for the vice president, now used by the Development Office. Most are being moved or demolished to make room for a major expansion of the university currently being planned. They long ago ceased to be family residences.
- Dates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:Flowers building became student-centered when administrative offices moved to Allen building in 1954. It is adjoined to the West Campus Union and the Page Auditorium.
- Dates:1925Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:East Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:InstitutionalNote:This functional building was constructed in order to serve the increased demand for heat in the expanded campus. The Georgian style new campus was constructed around existing buildings before three of them were demolished. The new campus, the Woman's College, opened in 1930 without students missing a single day of classes due to construction.
- Dates:1948Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Hudson Hall Engineering Building and the Physics Building are the first on an outer circle around the original plan. They were and remain controversial because their construction of red brick marked a departure from the Gothic style stone campus. Cost and labor were the driving forces behind the change in architectural design on West Campus.
- Dates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:Located in the open quadrangle to the right of the chapel, the Law School is identified by stone carving over the entrance, the scales of justice and an English jurist's wig. The Law School moved out of the main quadrangle in 1962.
- Dates:1928Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:East Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Library building is situated half way down the open quadrangle, slightly recessed, fronting a circular ellipse opposite the Union. Its portico of Ionic columns copies the auditorium and the Union, giving a sense of diversity and unity among the sameness of the other ten buildings. A portion of this building also served as the Art Museum until 1969. It was named Lilly Library in 1990 after Ruth Lilly, an Indiana philanthropist. Several members of the Lilly family graduated from Duke.
- Dates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:RecreationalNote:Page Auditorium is adjoined to the Western Campus Union and the Flowers Building.
- Dates:1949Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Hudson Hall Engineering Building and the Physics Building are the first on an outer circle around the original plan. They were and remain controversial because their construction of red brick marked a departure from the Gothic style stone campus. Cost and labor were the driving forces behind the change in architectural design on West Campus.
- Variant Name(s):Baker House; Duke Hospital Clinic South; Hospital; Medical School; Private Diagnostic ClinicDates:1930; 1938Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:Educational
Health CareNote:The Medical School and Hospital complex remains a visual part of the original campus with the Davison Tower dominating the "learning quadrangle" to the right facing the Chapel. The tower, containing administrative offices, was named for Wilbert C. Davison, first Dean of the Medical School, in 1961. The originally stand-alone Baker House has been incorporated in the hospital by additions. Nursing how has its own separate building nearby. The Private Diagnostic Clinic was added in 1938. The Gothic Revival façade addressing the original campus maintains its character, while an immense medical facility extends behind it.
- Dates:1929Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:RecreationalNote:The football stadium was the first part of the new campus used when students were bussed from East Campus to the first game on October 5, 1929. The stadium, built in a nearby natural ravine, was named for Wallace Wade in 1967. It remains the only stadium where the Rose Bowl has been played outside of its home in Pasadena, CA. That particular game was played in January, 1942, at the host school on the east coast after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941.
- Variant Name(s):Biology/Forestry; Chemistry; Physics/Social Sciences; PsychologyDates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The uses of these buildings are identified by stone carvings on each building, such as a mortar and pestle, beaker, flowers, tobacco leaves, test tubes. Chemistry relocated to the Paul M. Gross Chemical Laboratory in 1968. Biology and Forestry relocated to the Biological Sciences building in 1962. Physics relocated in 1949.
- Variant Name(s):Craven Quadrangle; Crowell Quadrangle; Few Quadrangle; Kilgo QuadrangleDates:1930; 1939Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The quadrangles are a variety of closed and open styles with varying dramatic heights usually determined by the lay of the land. Crowell is dominated by a large clock tower but each quadrangle has a distinctive tower lending to the overall theme of tension between unity and diversity. Few Quadrangle was built in 1939. The image shows Crowell and part of Kilgo.
- Dates:1930Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Union tower, located in main quadrangle across from the Library tower, forms a triangular focus with the Chapel. The building is adjoined to Page Auditorium and the Flowers Building.
- Contributors:Julian Abele, architect (1930); Horace Trumbauer Firm, architects (1930)Dates:1930; 1948 [addition]Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:West Campus, Duke University, Durham, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Library's tower, complementing the Union tower, continues the overall plan of diversity and unity. A major addition largely invisible from the main quadrangle doubled the book stack area and added the Mary Duke Biddle Rare Book Room in 1948.