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Gift Honors Architect John S. Chase, Aims to Increase Diversity in the Field

John-Chase_Enrolls at UT in 1950 copy
John S. Chase enrolls for classes in 1950, only two days after Sweatt v. Painter was settled by the Supreme Court.

AUSTIN, Texas — Houston entrepreneur, law professor and civic leader Tony Chase has committed a gift to The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture that will honor his late father, John S. Chase, FAIA (M. Arch ’52), the first Black graduate of the school and the first Black licensed architect in the state. The investment will help build a pipeline to attract underrepresented communities to the field and bring new voices into the profession.

“As one of the first Black students to enroll at UT, John Chase helped pave the way for progress and change,” said UT Austin President Jay Hartzell. “Then, he brought his considerable talents, creativity and education together to design special places that brought people together. This gift is an investment in the transformative power of education to bring about that sort of change and impact, and will support us as we continue to strive for excellence delivered through a richly diverse and inclusive campus.”

The $1 million donation committed by Chase and his wife, Dr. Dina Alsowayel, will create two new permanent endowments. The John S. Chase Family Endowed Graduate Fellowship will be used primarily to recruit graduates of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to the school and increase representation in the profession. John 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.

John S. Chase stands in front of his family home in Houston, Texas with two of his three children, Anthony (left) and John Jr. (right). Photo courtesy the John and Drucie Chase Collection. African American Library at the Gregory School, Houston Public Library.

One of the earliest Black students at UT, Chase enrolled in 1950. As a professional, he co-founded the National Organization of Minority Architects and led a flourishing practice with studios in Houston, Dallas and Washington, D.C. His architectural career demonstrates an affinity for democracy, unity and building community. His earliest works include churches, single-family residences and small office buildings for the Black community, some located in East Austin. In 1952, he designed the headquarters for the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas. In 2018, the building was acquired by UT, carefully 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.

“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 School of Architecture. “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 new endowments are the latest in a series of initiatives at the School of Architecture that celebrate Chase’s legacy. In 2019, the school hosted “Chasing Perfection: The Legacy of Architect John S. Chase,” an exhibition curated by the Houston Public Library, and an accompanying panel discussion. In 2020, Professor David Heymann co-authored “John S. Chase—The Chase Residence” with Houston architecture critic Stephen Fox, which explores the significance of the home Chase designed and built for his family in Houston, both as a work of modernist residential architecture and as a setting for many important social, cultural and political events. School of Architecture Assistant Professor Tara Dudley is also writing the first biography of John Chase to be published by University of Texas Press next year.

“My father always said, ‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” Chase said.

A business and community leader, Chase was also an active volunteer at the university, serving as a member of UT’s Development Board and Commission of 125, and as the first Black president of the Texas Exes. He received Texas Exes’ Distinguished Alumni Award in 1990.

Tony Chase is currently the chairman and CEO of ChaseSource LP — a staffing, facilities management and construction firm he founded. He is also a life member of the School of Architecture’s Advisory Council. John Chase’s daughter, Saundria Chase Gray, is a 1986 graduate of the UT School of Law and currently serves on the University of Texas Libraries Advisory Council.