Duke Basketball's Stadium: Designed By An African American During Segregation

Jan 6, 2015

Cameron Indoor Stadium under construction in 1939.
Credit OpenDurham.org via the Duke Archives

This week marks the 75th anniversary of Cameron Indoor Stadium, home to Duke University Basketball. In that time, the Blue Devils have won 4 national championships, and made 38 NCAA Tournament appearances. But the building itself has as much history as the teams that have passed through it.

At its founding, the stadium was the largest south of Philadelphia. It flaunted some of the most modern conveniences of any venue.

"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," said Duke University Archivist Valerie Gillispie.

Julian Abele
Credit Duke University

Just as interesting was the building designer - Architect Julian Abele. Abele was African American, the first black graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Architecture Department, in fact. He joined the firm of Horace Trumbaur at the turn of the century, and eventually became the chief designer.

The Trumbaur firm was responsible for many of the buildings on Duke's campus.  Though it wasn't until Horace Trumbaur's death, just before the designing of Cameron, that Abele started signing his own name to the draft designs of buildings.

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

Original rendering of Cameron Indoor Stadium, circa 1939
Credit OpenDurham.org via the Duke Archives

It was likely part professional, part societal. The Duke Basketball team wouldn't see its first African American on the court until the 1965 season.

"So he was actually designing buildings that were being used on a segregated southern campus. So it's very unusual."

Duke has, in recent years, paid much greater tribute to Abele than in the past, whose vision built the stage for legends.