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A perspective drawing of the Free Library of Philadelphia by Julian Abele.
A perspective drawing of the Free Library of Philadelphia by Julian Abele.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tracing black architect Julian Abele’s life and work in Philly

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A perspective drawing of the Free Library of Philadelphia by Julian Abele.
| Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

His name may not be as commonly heard as Louis Kahn or Frank Furness, but chances are, you’re already pretty familiar with Julian Francis Abele’s work. An architect who rose to success during the turn of the 19th century, Abele is behind the designs of some of Philly’s most beloved and iconic buildings.

He was the first black student to graduate from UPenn’s architecture program, and later went on to become the chief designer for Horace Trumbauer. Though well respected among designers in Philly at the time, it wasn’t until after his death in 1950 that he began to receive recognition for his role in designing the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and in later years, Duke University’s campus.

It’s been difficult for historians to pinpoint exactly which designs Abele had a hand in, because he had a policy of not signing blueprints and designs, but there are many that we know for sure he was behind

Here, we follow Abele’s life in the Philadelphia area, noting all of the major places and events that shaped his future career, as well as all the known major buildings and structures he designed during his time in the city.

Did we miss anything important about Abele’s life or his designs? Let us know in the comments.

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1. 718 South 21st Street

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718 S 21st St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

Abele grew up in this home, just south of Fitler Square, with his mom, five brothers, a niece, and sister-in-law, according to Census records.

Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania’s Archives Digital Image Collection

2. Institute for Colored Youth

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915 Bainbridge St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Julian Abele attended college at the Institute for Colored Youth, where mathematics was his forte. His talent was recognized within the school, and he was selected to give the commencement speech, which was called "The Role of Art in Negro Life."

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

3. Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art

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After attending the Institute for Colored Youth, Abele went on to earn a two-year degree in architecture from the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art. His smarts and wits were also noticed here, earning him the nickname “Willing and Able.” The school is now known as University of the Arts.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

4. University of Pennsylvania

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3659 Spruce St, Philadelphia
PA, 19104
(215) 898-4618
Visit Website

Abele continued his architecture education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the president of the student Architectural Society and became the first black graduate of the Graduate School of Fine Arts in 1902. All the more impressive about Abele’s success here is that he worked for architect Louis Hickman during all four years at Penn.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

5. Edward B. Conklin Memorial Gate

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370 Lancaster Ave
Haverford, PA 19041
(610) 896-1000
Visit Website

While at Penn, Abele won the first-place prize for a competition to design the Edward B. Conklin Memorial Gate for Haverford College. This became Abele’s first commission in his architecture career.

View of gate approaching it from the woods on the campus side the Haverford School campus can be seen to the left with a...

Posted by William Williams on Monday, December 21, 2015

6. Land Title Building

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100 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19110

Almost immediately after graduating from Penn, Abele joined Horace Trumbaeur’s firm as chief designer. One of his first projects involved designing the second, 22-story tower to the Land Title building. It opened in 1902 and eventually became home to Trumbauer’s main office.

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Historica; Commission

7. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

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128 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 972-7600
Visit Website

After graduating from Penn, Abele continued his education at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1902-1903, studying architectural design.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

8. The Union League of Philadelphia

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140 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 563-6500
Visit Website

The historic Union League of Philadelphia on Broad Street was designed by architect John Fraser in 1895. But in 1905, Horace Trumbaeur won a competition to design the additions of the building, which ultimately expanded the length of the Union League to one city block. Abele is on record to have co-designed the Beaux-Arts addition with Trumbauer, which was completed in 1910 and 1911.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

9. 1911 Fitzwater Street

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1911 Fitzwater St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

Today, the home has been completely renovated inside and out, but in 1910 Abele lived here with his father, two other brothers, and one of his sisters.

Courtesy of Google Streetview

10. Whitemarsh Hall

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Trumbauer Dr
Wyndmoor, PA 19038

Abele joined Trumbauer’s firm in 1902, at a time when the firm had already earned recognition for its enormous, Gilded Age mansions like Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park. Abele was a chief designer on another project of this size and scope, Whitemash Hall in Wynnwood, built in 1920. The immense neo-Georgian mansion designed for Edward Stotesbury sat on an incredible 300 acres and boasted 147 rooms and 45 bathrooms. Like many mansions of this era, Whitemarsh Hall was demolished in 1980.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

11. Philadelphia Museum of Art

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2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215) 763-8100
Visit Website

The design of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a large undertaking that involved multiple architectural firms, including Trumbauer’s. But it is now recognized that Abele was responsible for the detail work and perspective drawings. The museum opened in 1928, and in later years the director Fiske Kimball would describe Abele as “one of the most sensitive designers anywhere in America.”

Courtesy of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia

12. Free Library of Philadelphia

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1901 Vine St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 686-5322
Visit Website

While also working on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Abele was the lead designer on the Beaux-Arts-style Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central branch. It was many years in the making due to a number of reasons, but eventually it opened in 1927, a year before the art museum.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

13. 1515 Christian Street

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1515 Christian St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

Abele lived in this 3-story rowhome (center) in what is today Graduate Hospital with his wife Marguerite Marie, two of their children, and one of his sisters. As Penn’s biography describes it, “This 10-room, 3-story rowhouse was furnished with elegant French furniture, objets d'art from their travels plus furniture, art work and even needlepoint from Julian's hand.” Given that Abele lived in Southwest Philadelphia throughout his life, it's fitting that in 2008 the Julian Abele Park opened at 22nd Street between Carpenter and Montrose.

Courtesy of Google Streetview

14. Eden Cemetery

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1434 Springfield Rd
Collingdale, PA 19023

Although Abele was born and raised in Philadelphia, he was buried in 1950 outside of the city in the borough of Collingdale at Eden Cemetery. The burial ground was created as a place for African Americans to be buried with respect and dignity and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1. 718 South 21st Street

718 S 21st St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania’s Archives Digital Image Collection

Abele grew up in this home, just south of Fitler Square, with his mom, five brothers, a niece, and sister-in-law, according to Census records.

718 S 21st St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

2. Institute for Colored Youth

915 Bainbridge St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Julian Abele attended college at the Institute for Colored Youth, where mathematics was his forte. His talent was recognized within the school, and he was selected to give the commencement speech, which was called "The Role of Art in Negro Life."

915 Bainbridge St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

3. Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art

Philadelphia, PA
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After attending the Institute for Colored Youth, Abele went on to earn a two-year degree in architecture from the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art. His smarts and wits were also noticed here, earning him the nickname “Willing and Able.” The school is now known as University of the Arts.

4. University of Pennsylvania

3659 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA, 19104
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Abele continued his architecture education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the president of the student Architectural Society and became the first black graduate of the Graduate School of Fine Arts in 1902. All the more impressive about Abele’s success here is that he worked for architect Louis Hickman during all four years at Penn.

3659 Spruce St, Philadelphia
PA, 19104

5. Edward B. Conklin Memorial Gate

370 Lancaster Ave, Haverford, PA 19041

While at Penn, Abele won the first-place prize for a competition to design the Edward B. Conklin Memorial Gate for Haverford College. This became Abele’s first commission in his architecture career.

370 Lancaster Ave
Haverford, PA 19041

6. Land Title Building

100 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19110
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Historica; Commission

Almost immediately after graduating from Penn, Abele joined Horace Trumbaeur’s firm as chief designer. One of his first projects involved designing the second, 22-story tower to the Land Title building. It opened in 1902 and eventually became home to Trumbauer’s main office.

100 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19110

7. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

128 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After graduating from Penn, Abele continued his education at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1902-1903, studying architectural design.

128 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

8. The Union League of Philadelphia

140 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The historic Union League of Philadelphia on Broad Street was designed by architect John Fraser in 1895. But in 1905, Horace Trumbaeur won a competition to design the additions of the building, which ultimately expanded the length of the Union League to one city block. Abele is on record to have co-designed the Beaux-Arts addition with Trumbauer, which was completed in 1910 and 1911.

140 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

9. 1911 Fitzwater Street

1911 Fitzwater St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
Courtesy of Google Streetview

Today, the home has been completely renovated inside and out, but in 1910 Abele lived here with his father, two other brothers, and one of his sisters.

1911 Fitzwater St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

10. Whitemarsh Hall

Trumbauer Dr, Wyndmoor, PA 19038
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Abele joined Trumbauer’s firm in 1902, at a time when the firm had already earned recognition for its enormous, Gilded Age mansions like Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park. Abele was a chief designer on another project of this size and scope, Whitemash Hall in Wynnwood, built in 1920. The immense neo-Georgian mansion designed for Edward Stotesbury sat on an incredible 300 acres and boasted 147 rooms and 45 bathrooms. Like many mansions of this era, Whitemarsh Hall was demolished in 1980.

Trumbauer Dr
Wyndmoor, PA 19038

11. Philadelphia Museum of Art

2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Courtesy of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia

The design of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a large undertaking that involved multiple architectural firms, including Trumbauer’s. But it is now recognized that Abele was responsible for the detail work and perspective drawings. The museum opened in 1928, and in later years the director Fiske Kimball would describe Abele as “one of the most sensitive designers anywhere in America.”

2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
Philadelphia, PA 19130

12. Free Library of Philadelphia

1901 Vine St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While also working on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Abele was the lead designer on the Beaux-Arts-style Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central branch. It was many years in the making due to a number of reasons, but eventually it opened in 1927, a year before the art museum.

1901 Vine St
Philadelphia, PA 19103

13. 1515 Christian Street

1515 Christian St, Philadelphia, PA 19146
Courtesy of Google Streetview

Abele lived in this 3-story rowhome (center) in what is today Graduate Hospital with his wife Marguerite Marie, two of their children, and one of his sisters. As Penn’s biography describes it, “This 10-room, 3-story rowhouse was furnished with elegant French furniture, objets d'art from their travels plus furniture, art work and even needlepoint from Julian's hand.” Given that Abele lived in Southwest Philadelphia throughout his life, it's fitting that in 2008 the Julian Abele Park opened at 22nd Street between Carpenter and Montrose.

1515 Christian St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

14. Eden Cemetery

1434 Springfield Rd, Collingdale, PA 19023

Although Abele was born and raised in Philadelphia, he was buried in 1950 outside of the city in the borough of Collingdale at Eden Cemetery. The burial ground was created as a place for African Americans to be buried with respect and dignity and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1434 Springfield Rd
Collingdale, PA 19023