Trumbauer, Horace, 1869-1938

Alternative names
Birth 1868-12-28
Death 1938-09-18

Biographical notes:

Horace Trumbauer

Born in the Frankford section of Philadelphia in 1868, Horace Trumbauer left school at the age of fourteen and entered the architectural firm of G. W. and W. D. Hewitt as an "errand boy". He was soon promoted to draftsman. Trumbauer's advancement and acquisition of knowledge enabled him to eventually open his own office in 1890.

Trumbauer's first major commission was a mansion in Glenside, Pennsylvania, for sugar baron William Welsh Harrison. When Harrison's mansion burned to the ground in 1893, he commissioned Trumbauer to rebuild it. This second home, called Grey Towers (now part of Arcadia University), marked Trumbauer's rise to prominence in the profession. Its castle-like design instilled the estate with a distinct architectural style that was unique to Trumbauer's work.

Trumbauer's firm expanded its scope, designing not only mansions in Philadelphia, New York City, and Newport, Rhode Island, but also apartment houses and other large structures. By 1904, when the prominent Architectural Record published a lengthy account of Trumbauer's works, he had become one of the country's most distinguished architects. Over the next decades, Trumbauer and his staff received more than 1,000 commissions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and many offices, schools, hotels, and medical buildings. Among Trumbauer's most important commissions of this period was the Gothic revival Duke University campus in Durham, North Carolina.

Because of his talent and aloofness, Trumbauer gained accolades in New York City before he did in his hometown. His colleagues in Philadelphia did not elect him to membership in their chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) until 1931, an affront that reportedly greatly disturbed him. Added to this mix was the fact that he employed, advanced and befriended one of the very few African American architects in the country. Trumbauer and Abele each faced discrimination and because of that Trumbauer empathized with the racial discrimination confronting Abele. Consequently they forged a close relationship based on respect for talent and friendship, but each also trapped the other in a peculiar set of circumstances. Trumbauer excelled as the front man dealing with major clients but he avoided publicity and public appearances. Abele was the African American chief designer essential to the internal operation of the firm, a position too confining for his deserved reputation. Abele, himself, was not elected to membership in the Philadelphia AIA until 1941.

Trumbauer worked exclusively in period styles, reviving the architecture of distant times and places. Due to architectural trends and the Great Depression, Trumbauer's practice dwindled in the 1930s. His staff fell from a high of thirty members down to his longtime associates Julian Abele and William O. Frank, and a few others. He died on September 18, 1938.

Julian Abele

Born in Philadelphia in 1881, Julian Abele was the youngest of eight children. He attended Brown Preparatory School, the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, Pa., and the University of Pennsylvania. Trumbauer recognized the talent of Julian Abele when he observed some of Abele's student award winning drawings. Upon Abele's graduation in 1902 as the first African-American student in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Trumbauer financed further study for him at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris. Abele joined Trumbauer's firm in 1906, advancing to chief designer in 1909. Abele designed the Fifth Avenue Residence of James B. Duke in New York, and Duke soon hired Abele to design the medieval-style Gothic buildings of East and West campuses of Duke University. Abele designed over 600 buildings including the Free Library of Philadelphia. Trumbauer died in 1938; Abele and business partner William O. Frank continued to run the firm until Abele's death in 1950.

After the death of Horace Trumbauer in 1938, the firm continued for another twenty years under his name. With commissions more difficult to come by during the Great Depression and World War II, it was not a propitious time to change the name of the firm. However, Abele's name began appearing on the architectural drawings in an obvious change of policy. In 1940 when decisions were being made concerning burial in the Duke University chapel crypt, A. S. Brower, then assistant to the Comptroller, advised that Abele be consulted because he "prepared the plans and knows the details of the building better than anyone else."

[Source: Free Library of Pennsylvania]

From the guide to the Horace Trumbauer Architectural Drawings Collection, ., 1924 - 1958, (University Archives, Duke University)


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