In a small glass case beneath the grand dome of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library a collection of ephemera honors Philadelphia-born architect Julian Abele and the major role he played in crafting the signature structure on the Harvard campus, a contribution that until recently had largely gone unacknowledged.
Included amid the photos and correspondence are rich drawings sketched in Europe that shine a light on the talent and artistry of Abele, chief designer for the Philadelphia firm of Horace Trumbauer and the first African American student admitted to the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Abele, a gifted architect and artist, went to work for the firm immediately after graduating in 1902 and took over the business when Trumbauer died in 1938. Besides Widener, Abele is credited with designing or contributing to the design of more than 200 buildings, among them the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as much of Duke University’s campus, including its iconic Collegiate Gothic chapel.
“We’re so lucky that this beautiful space where we think and work was designed by one of the most accomplished architects of his time,” said Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian Martha Whitehead. “The fact that he was a black man facing discrimination in a virtually all-white profession makes his achievements even more impressive.”