In Jim Crow South, Iconic Duke Basketball Arena Was Designed by Black Architect Julian Abele

Julian Abele, who designed Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke

Architect Julian Abele.

Little-known Black history fact: Duke’s venerable and historic Cameron Indoor Stadium, which opened 75 years ago Tuesday, was designed by Julian Abele, a Black man whose architectural gifts were mostly concealed because of his race.

Abele was the first Black person to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture department and, at the turn of the century, joined the firm of Horace Trumbaur. His talent was undeniable, even during those times, and he eventually rose to chief designer.

Trumbaur’s firm designed many of the edifices on Duke’s campus. Abele was unable to sign his name to his creations, however. It was not until Trumbaur died, just before the designing of Cameron Indoor Stadium, that Abele begin signing his name to his work.

“Therefore, our drawing of Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the very first that we have that we can directly ascribe to Julian Abele,” Duke archivist Valerie Gillispie said to “He was really in the background.

“So he was actually designing buildings that were being used on a segregated Southern campus. So it’s very unusual.”

Abele created what was considered at the time the most state-of-the-art basketball facility south of Philadelphia. It had amenities no other arena had.

“The ability to heat it, the ability to light it brightly—those were really all brand new and made the stadium one of the most desirable places for people to play,” Gillispie said.

Abele’s building has long been one of the iconic college basketball facilities in the country, a place enthusiasts put on their bucket list to visit.

Ironically, it was not until 25 years after the building opened that a Black player first played in the building designed by a Black man. That was 1965. Two years later, C.B. Claiborne became the first Black basketball player at Duke.

Abele also designed the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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