A newly announced $1 million gift bestowed to the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture honoring the late John S. Chase, the school’s first Black graduate and the first licensed Black architect in Texas, will be used to create a pair of permanent endowments to boost diversity within the profession. The gift comes from prominent Houston entrepreneur, law professor, and civic leader Tony Chase and his wife, Dr. Dina Alsowayel. John Chase, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 87, had three children, with Tony being the younger of his two sons.
As noted in a UT Austin news release announcing the donation and planned endowments, the School of Architecture will use the gift as an “investment that will help build a pipeline to attract underrepresented communities to the field and bring new voices into the profession.” The first endowment, the John S. Chase Family Endowed Graduate Fellowship, will be used to help recruit recent graduates of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to the School of Architecture; the second, The John S. Chase Family Endowed Professorship in Architecture, will, as described by the school, be used to “help recruit and retain outstanding faculty members and support their study of the built environment.”
“Throughout his life and as reflected in his built works, John Chase was a connector and a community-builder,” said Michelle Addington, dean of the UT Austin School of Architecture, in a statement. “Not only did Chase design spaces that brought people together, but he used his pioneering position to create opportunities for others. We are extremely grateful for Tony’s incredible gift and honored to continue John Chase’s legacy of creating opportunities for a whole new generation.”
The Maryland-born Chase was an HBCU alumnus, graduating from Virginia’s Hampton University in 1948 before enrolling in the master’s program at UT Austin’s School of Architecture in 1950 as one of the university’s first African American students. His enrollment came just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court settled Sweatt v. Painter, which ordered Texas’s university system to desegregate its graduate and professional programs. Architectural firms hiring young Black architects were, at the time, virtually non-existent, prompting Chase to relocate from Austin to teach at Texas Southern University, also an HBCU, in Houston following the completion of his studies. Shortly after landing in Houston, Chase made history by obtaining licensure and establishing his own architectural practice.
In the busy decades after establishing his Houston practice, Chase went on to design a multitude of buildings in Texas and beyond including churches, office buildings, major educational and civic commissions, and residential projects, including his own family home in Houston. By the 1970s, Chase had opened satellite studios in Austin, Dallas, and Washington, D.C.
Many of Chase’s completed projects, particularly his early ones, were designed for the Black community including Houston’s Riverside National Bank (1963), which was the first Black-owned bank in Texas; several buildings on the campus of Texas Southern University including the Thurgood Marshall School of Law (1976), and the national headquarters of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in Washington, D.C. (1990). One of Chase’s notable early projects was the Austin headquarters for the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas (1952.) In 2018, UT acquired and restored the building, converting it into an outreach center for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Donna Carter, the first licensed Black female architect in Austin, oversaw the restoration. Last fall, the National Register of Historic Places-listed building was renamed the John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building. (Chase’s late wife, the Austin-born educator Drucie Raye Rucker Chase, passed just last year.) As noted by UT, Chase’s architectural career “demonstrates an affinity for democracy, unity and building community.”
Chase was the recipient of numerous awards and accolades over the course of his long and prolific career including the American Institute of Architects Whitney M. Young Jr. Citation (1982) and the University of Texas Distinguished Alumnus Award (1992). In 1971, Chase co-founded the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and in 1980 was appointed as the first African American member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. He served on the commission until 1985.
“My father always said, ‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,’” recounted Tony Chase in a statement.
You can read more about Chase’s remarkable life and legacy here. Tara Dudley, assistant professor at UT Austin’s School of Architecture, is also writing the first biography of the pioneering Texan architect. It is set to be published by the University of Texas Press next year.