David Chapel

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Lauren Hartnett
Posts: 33
Joined: Wed May 22, 2019 2:13 pm

David Chapel

Post by Lauren Hartnett » Wed Feb 03, 2021 6:01 pm

On behalf of MPT Harper-Madison and CM Tovo:


Following up on the conversation we had in executive session yesterday, we thought it might be useful to provide some general information about David Chapel and its architect, John Saunders Chase, FAIA (1925-2012).

Chase made significant contributions to architecture in Texas and nationally. What follows is intended only as a brief introduction; there is much information available about his life and work, and we’ve provided links to a few easily accessible sources below.

John S. Chase:
-graduated from Hampton University in Virginia; moved to Austin when he received a job offer from Lott Lumber Company. He also taught at the Crescent Institute on East 9th Street and at L.C. Anderson High’s night school.

-on June 7, 1950 – two days after the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of desegregation in three separate cases including Sweatt v. Painter – Chase became one of the first African Americans to enroll in The University of Texas at Austin.

-1st African American to graduate from UT’s School of Architecture (1952). Chase is said to have incorporated elements from his master’s thesis, “Progressive Architecture for the Negro Baptist Church,” in David Chapel. Sightlines Magazine describes the thesis as “no mere design project” but rather “an analysis of the acoustic and spatial needs of a church to serve the devotional practices of the congregation: singing, praying, baptism. [Chase] 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.”

-1st African American to be licensed within the State of Texas to practice architecture (1954). Because he was rejected at every architectural firm he applied, he was unable to complete his required internship and had to apply for a waiver to become registered.

After graduation, Chase and his wife Drucie moved to Houston; Chase was a professor at Texas Southern University, founded a successful architectural practice, and together with his wife played a key role in the political and cultural life of that city. In addition to his distinguished architectural career, he helped found the National Organization of Minority Architects, served as President of Texas Exes, and worked to expand opportunities for African Americans in architectural, political, and educational arenas.

Chase designed churches and homes in Houston, Dallas, and other cities in Texas along with numerous public buildings, including on the Texas Southern University and UT Austin campuses (the Myers Track and Soccer Stadium and San Antonio parking garage). He held or collaborated on other important public commissions, including the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Harris County Astrodome renovation, and Tuskegee’s Kresge Administration Center, and he renovated the historic buildings that serve as national headquarters for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Links, Inc., in D.C. By the end of the 1970s, he had branch offices in Dallas, Austin, and D.C. In addition to other honors and awards, he was appointed by President Carter to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts.

Chase’s Austin buildings include the following structures, several of which fall within the Rogers-Washington-Holy Cross Historic District, one of the first local neighborhoods founded by and for African American professionals:

The Della Phillips House (1966), 2310 East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.

Teachers State Association of Texas (1952), 1911 Navasota Street. Now owned by UT and intended as Community Engagement Center for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Olivet Baptist Church, 1179 San Bernard Street.

David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church (1959), 2211 East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church:
The midcentury modern David Chapel has been the subject of architectural tours and articles; it is featured on multiple Texas travel sites, including on the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Heritage Trails Program: “The building bears witness to the skill of its architect, John S. Chase, with a distinctive roofline that serves to guide the visitor’s eye toward the cross in the sanctuary of the church. Additionally, the folding panels – an unusual design feature at the time – increase the functionality of the building, allowing it to be subdivided into smaller areas.”

As the congregation has expanded, the church has outgrown its site and intends to sell the property and construct a new campus on Springdale Road.

In a 2019 Austin American-Statesman editorial, Alberta Phillips spoke to the historical significance of this important East Austin asset:

“The true value, measured in history, is priceless. David Chapel traces its origins to 1924, but the current structure opened its doors in 1959. It was a proud undertaking, with the design, construction and financing done entirely by the African American community. The late John Chase, the first African American to graduate from the University of Texas School of Architecture, designed the building. Another prominent African American, the late Oliver B. Street, was the contractor, and the venerable St. John Regular Baptist Association made the loan for the project…

The burden for saving David Chapel and the relatively few remaining structures that represent African American and Latino histories should not fall on the shoulders of a single church, congregation or community. . . . . it’s time city, county, UT and business leaders work with [Pastor] Parker to buy – and preserve – David Chapel for the benefit of all Central Texans.”

Colleagues, we look forward to the continued conversation about the preservation of David Chapel, the potential for creative affordable housing opportunities, and the City of Austin’s possible role, in these important endeavors.

Mayor Pro Tem Harper Madison
Council Member Kathie Tovo

More information about John Chase and David Chapel:

• “Church History,” David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church

• “African-American churches worth more to Austin than their land value,” by Alberta Phillips Austin American-Statesman (3 September 2018)
https://www.statesman.com/NEWS/20160903 ... land-value

• Alberta Phillips, “Bill Making it Easier to Demolish Historic Churches Goes Too Far,” by Alberta Phillips Austin American-Statesman (16 May 2019) https://www.statesman.com/opinion/20190 ... es-too-far

• “A Legacy of Firsts: Texas Architect John S. Chase,” by Humanities Texas and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin. Includes an excerpt about John Chase from the book, As We Saw It: The Story of Integration at The University of Texas at Austin, edited by Gregory J. Vincent, Virginia A. Cumberbatch, and Leslie A. Blair.
https://www.humanitiestexas.org/news/ar ... hn-s-chase

• “John S. Chase: Paving the Way,” by Katie Jakovich. UT Architecture & Planning Library online exhibit.
https://utlibrariesarchitecture.omeka.n ... ng_the_way

• “Texas loses a Trailblazer: John Chase Dies,” by Rose Cahalan. Alcalde: The Official Publication of the Texas Exes
https://alcalde.texasexes.org/2012/04/t ... hase-dies/

• John S. Chase – The Chase Residence by David Heymann (UT Austin); book includes essay, “The Architecture of John S. Chase,” by Stephen Fox (University of Houston).
On January 14, 2021, David Heymann and John Chase’s wife and children participated in a panel discussion: “Chase House Remembered,” and the recording is online: https://www.ricedesignalliance.org/vide ... id-heymann
[Panel focused on the family’s residence in Houston within the context the Chase family’s larger role in the Houston community. At about the 53-minute mark, son Anthony Chase speaks briefly about David Chapel, describing it as one of his favorite designs of his father’s.]

• Texas Historical Commission Texas Heritage Trails Program, https://txhillcountrytrail.com/plan-you ... ist-church [State heritage tourism website which includes David Chapel on its Texas Hill Country Trail]

• John S. Chase oral history interviews. “The HistoryMakers: The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection.” https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/john-s-chase
[Extensive oral histories in which John Chase describes his experience as one of few African American students at the newly integrated UT Austin, his professional experiences, his political involvements, and other subjects]

• “John S. Chase: Progressive Architecture in East Austin,” by Jason John Paul Haskins (8 October 2013)
https://www.locusiste.org/blog/2013/10/ ... hn%20chase
[Blog post by architect and independent researcher who focuses in part on the architecture of churches; the post includes photographs and some detailed analysis of architectural elements of David Chapel]

• “In Plain Sight: A Midcentury East Austin Treasure, Packed with History, Gets a New Life,” Marla Akin Sightlines Magazine (5 March 2018). [Article primarily about the Phillips House]
https://sightlinesmag.org/plain-sight-m ... s-new-life
Policy Director