Tony Chase, Houston entrepreneur, law professor and civic leader has committed $1 million to The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture in honor of his late father, John S. Chase, the first Black graduate of the school and the first Black licensed architect in the state. UT officials made the announcement today.
The $1 million committed by Tony Chase and his wife, Dr. Dina Alsowayel, will create two new endowments.
The John S. Chase Family Endowed Graduate Fellowship will be used to recruit graduates of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to graduate programs at the School of Architecture. Both John S. Chase and his wife, Austinite Drucie Rae Rucker Chase, graduated from HBCUs.
The John S. Chase Family Endowed Professorship in Architecture will help recruit and retain outstanding faculty members and support their study of the built environment.
“My father always said, ‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” said Tony Chase, chairman and CEO of ChaseSource, a facilities management and construction firm. He is also a life member of the School of Architecture’s Advisory Council.
In 1950, John S. Chase enrolled at UT just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court settled Sweatt v. Painter, prohibiting the university from rejecting applicants solely on the basis of race.
A native of Maryland who earned his B.S. in architecture in Virginia in 1948, Chase moved to Austin where, by various accounts, he worked with East Austin homebuilders Lott Lumber Company; as an instructor at the Crescent Institute on E. Ninth Street, “providing private instruction for coloreds in drafting” and other building arts, according to the 1949 city directory; and as a night school teacher at L.C. Anderson High.
In 1949, seeking to further credential himself, he naturally looked to UT as the nearest and best option for a professional degree. But UT didn’t accept Black students. Chase approached the dean of the School of Architecture and proposed a correspondence course; Chase wasn’t looking to break barriers or make history, just to learn.
With Sweatt v. Painter before the U.S. Supreme Court, the dean encouraged Chase to await the court’s decision. Chase was admitted for the summer 1950 term.
Chase produced an impressive master’s thesis, “Progressive Architecture in the Negro Baptist Church.” No mere design project it was an analysis of the acoustic and spatial needs of a church to serve the devotional practices of the congregation: singing, praying, baptism. He saw the potential of modernist, aspirational buildings to create for black congregations a future freed of the past, espousing the principles of social justice through democratic space-making.
In his thesis, Chase also cited his own influences as Frank Lloyd Wright and Paul Williams of Los Angeles, an African American who designed the Hollywood homes of Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and Barbara Stanwyck, as well as many public buildings.
In 1952, Chase designed the headquarters for the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas. In 2018, the building was acquired by UT, and restored and updated to house an outreach center for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, which was dedicated as the John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building last fall.
Chase became the first African American member of the Texas Society of Architects and the Houston chapter of the AIA as well as the co-founder of the National Organization of Minorities in Architecture. During the Carter administration, Chase was the first African American appointed to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts which under his tenure selected Maya Lin’s proposal for the Vietnam Memorial. He was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
At UT, Chase was the first Black president of the Texas Exes association. He received Texas Exes’ Distinguished Alumni Award in 1990.