Learn about extraordinary local architectural pioneer

by Len Lear
Posted 9/10/20

Most likely you have never heard of Julian Francis Abele (1881-1950), but he is surely one of the most remarkable Philadelphia architects of the past two centuries. Despite the fact that in his youth …

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Learn about extraordinary local architectural pioneer


Most likely you have never heard of Julian Francis Abele (1881-1950), but he is surely one of the most remarkable Philadelphia architects of the past two centuries. Despite the fact that in his youth it was nearly impossible for an African American student to be admitted to any college, Julian became the first African American ever to earn a degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania when he graduated in 1902. And he he did so while working the entire four years as a designer with an architectural firm in the daytime (so he could afford to pay for tuition and books) and taking classes in the late afternoon and evening. He also won five prestigious design competitions during his undergraduate years.

After graduation, Abele was hired by Horace Trumbauer, arguably the city's most distinguished architect at the time. In his subsequent career, Abele contributed to the design of more than 400 buildings, including the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University, Philadelphia’s Central Library and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

If you love Philadelphia’s architectural heritage and Black history, then you will certainly enjoy the  presentation and discussion that will be conducted by DuRay Montegue, lover of 19th-century architecture, a neighbor of Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion and Mansion board member in the Mansion at 200 W. Tulpehocken St. in Germantown on Saturday, Sept. 12, 1 p.m., via Zoom.

Montegue, 59, a native of Washington, D.C., graduated from Howard University with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1987. (Kamala Harris attended Howard at the same time.) After college he moved to Philadelphia and stayed in Germantown with a friend.

As a member of the Advocate Community Development Corporation, DuRay and his wife Michele restored a row of Diamond Street brownstones in North Philly attributed to the legendary Frank Furness. For over a decade they lived in and enhanced a 1890s' stone Colonial “Breezewood” designed by Trumbauer in Wyncote.

For the last 15 years DuRay has worked for the Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company, which is currently manufacturing millions of doses of a potential vaccine for Covid-19 that is currently in Phase 3 trials.

How did DuRay become interested in the life of Julian Abele? “I was fascinated by the art and innovation that he brought to classic architecture. His passion for the work he wanted to do was not driven by seeking the limelight or personal praise. His life represented one of the positive peaks on the wave of the African American journey since Reconstruction.”

What is the origin of the name DuRay? “An antique bible from my dad's family showed handwritten notes on dates of births and deaths going back to the 1870s. The name DuRay was listed as being born in 1899 but had no date of death. As a result, my dad said that he would name his first son after this 'immortal' person.”

According to Diane Richardson, of Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, “DuRay is a huge asset to us. Among other contributions, DuRay arranges 'volunteer days' through Pfizer. They rake leaves, etc., which is tremendously helpful, and then the Mansion receives a check from Pfizer for hosting a volunteer day. 'Coffee for Neighbors,' a neighborhood outreach program, was DuRay's idea. Michele also helps with events. Knowing DuRay and Michele is a blessing and an honor.” (Michele, also a native of Washington, D.C., is an engineer with the State of Pennsylvania responsible for drinking water quality.)

The Montegues have a son, DuRay II, who did his undergraduate work in London, England. Their daughter, Lindsey, lives in Washington, D.C., where she recently began her professional career with KPMG, a global network of audit/tax firms.

When asked where on earth he would most like to live, DuRay replied, “I would have to say Barcelona, Spain. It has a diverse population, amazing historic architecture, the Mediterranean Sea and a really laid back feel. That being said, I am 'over the moon' to have realized a long-standing dream of owning one of the jewels of the Tulpehocken Station Historic District here in Germantown.”

The link to the webpage for this Zoom event is
https://ebenezermaxwellmansion.org/interactiveqa/ Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com


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