Francis Abreu was born in 1896 to Diego and Marie Jova Abreu, the owners of a Cuban sugar plantation. Francis became a renowned architect known in Florida and Georgia for his distinctive designs that blend Spanish and Mediterranean influences. He enrolled at Cornell University in 1916 to study architecture, enlisted in the Navy during World War I, then graduated from Cornell in 1920.
Francis moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, before ultimately joining his parents in Fort Lauderdale to continue his architectural career. Known for his unique brand of Cuban-influenced Spanish-revival style, he was a prolific designer during Fort Lauderdale’s land and real estate boom of the 1920s and several of his homes and commercial buildings survive to this day, including the Fort Lauderdale Country Club and St. Anthony’s School.
Abreu moved to Sea Island in 1928 and began a long and productive career designing homes and other developments in Georgia. In addition to numerous cottages on the island, including that of playwright Eugene O’Neill, Abreu designed multiple additions to Addison Mizner’s original hotel, including the River House and Administration Building.
On April 14, 1938, Francis married May Elizabeth Patterson on Sea Island. May was born in 1891, the daughter of William and Mollie Patterson of Atlanta. She was the widow of James J. Goodrum, a prominent Atlanta investment banker who had been instrumental in the initial public offering of The Coca-Cola Company. Francis and May had one child, Peter Michael, born in 1942.
Francis and May were both involved in community and society life on the coast and in the city of Atlanta. With the war effort in full swing, and May at the helm of the Red Cross Blood Donor Services, she was selected from among thousands of nominees to be Atlanta’s first “Woman of the Year” in 1943. May was known for her generosity to many organizations, particularly the Humane Societies of Atlanta and South Coastal Georgia, Saint Joseph’s Infirmary in Atlanta, the American Red Cross, and to individuals who needed help getting back on their feet following the Great Depression.
Francis died in 1969, and May followed in 1976. Upon her death she established the Francis L. Abreu Charitable Trust to honor her late husband and continue their legacy of giving. In 2002 in honor of May’s own philanthropic efforts the family chose to add her name to the Trust title, creating The May P. and Francis L. Charitable Trust.
Peter Michael Abreu died on August 12, 2013. Today the foundation is maintained by Peter’s children and continues to model the legacy of May and Francis by carrying on their tradition of giving back to Atlanta-area arts and cultural programs, education, health associations, human services, children, and youth services.
In 2012, the Trust established the May P. and Francis L. Abreu Fund at the Georgia Historical Society, ensuring that the Society’s mission to collect, examine, and teach Georgia history will continue far into the future.