John Saunders Chase | 1925 - 2012
John S Chase isn't a name many people know in Austin, and it's a shame too. He was a pioneer in his days, and contributed a lot to the architectural fabric of the city.
Despite the struggles Austin still has with inequality, it's hard for me to imagine a time when you weren't allowed to go to a school simply because of the color of your skin. But that was exactly the case for John S Chase. Undergraduate programs were still segregated when he earned a bachelor of science degree in architecture from Hampton University in 1948. Undergraduate programs would not desegregate until the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. To follow his dream to become an architect Chase would need to go to school to get his masters degree. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in Sweatt v. Painter in 1950, Chase would finally have a chance to do that. Just two days after the monumental ruling to desegregate graduate and professional level schools John S Chase was on the campus of UT to enroll. That day he would become the first African American to enroll at the university. It was just one of the many first he would achieve in his life, including the first first licensed African-American architect in the state of Texas. It would be another decade until the second was licensed. Appointed by President Jimmy Carter he was also the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
Despite his amazing accomplishments, none of these successes would come easily. His days at UT were difficult.
“From the moment I set foot on the university campus, I was shadowed by federal marshals,” said Chase. “I received a lot of hate mail using the ‘n’ word and a lot of passive aggressive innuendos and undercuts.
“But I also received a lot of support from white friends and faculty who wanted to see me succeed.”
After graduation and receiving his license, Chase was unable to find a single firm that would hire him. He would not be discourage however and in 1952 he would press forward and start his own firm.
“I passed the state examination and in 1952 founded my own architectural firm. I didn’t know anything about bookkeeping or tax laws or how to coordinate designers, draftsmen and engineers. Basically, I didn’t know a darn thing about running a business.”
He would go on to design and build many great buildings and homes in Texas.
Some notable examples in East Austin include:
PHILIPS HOUSE (1964)
Thompson House (1963)
House of Elegance (formerly Colored Teachers State Association of Texas Building)
Olivet Baptist Church (1961)
You can here a great interview with John Chase below.