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Chasing Perfection: The Work and Life of John Chase

On January 23, the day that would have been John Chase’s 93rd birthday, the Houston Public Library opened an exhibit remembering his life, Chasing Perfection: The Work and Life of Architect John S. Chase. A second exhibit called Chasing Perfection: The Legacy of John S. Chase opened simultaneously at the nearby African American Library, which featured the work of his architecture firm and those African American architects he influenced. Chase’s wife, Drucie Chase, recently donated papers, drawings, and other materials to the Houston Public Library. The collection will be housed at the African American Library.

Chase was the first African American to attend the University of Texas School of Architecture in 1950, he was the first licensed African American architect in Texas, and the first African American president of the Texas Exes.  In 1980, he was also the first African American appointed to the U.S. National Commission on the Arts, appointed by President Jimmy Carter.

photo architect working
John Chase at work.

Chase’s architecture firm hired diverse architects who worked on major projects in Texas and the Washington, D.C. area, including buildings and facilities at the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, the University of Texas and Hampton University, as well as numerous large churches, the Vietnam Memorial, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority headquarters and the George R. Brown Convention Center. In a 1974 interview, Chase said of his team,

I would like to say that I’ve got the biggest UN of architects in this town. My secretary is Mexican, I’ve got a man from Nigeria…we’ve got three blacks from Houston, we’ve got a white, and we’ve got William Kwan, who is Chinese and born in Hong Kong. So I tell you we’ve got some of everybody and have what I feel is the most amicable and a very well-working staff.

mayor of Houston
Houston mayor Sylvester Turner gave remarks about Chase during the “Chasing Perfection” opening reception. To his left is Mrs. Drucie Chase.

Sylvester Turner, current mayor of Houston and former state representative for district 139, spoke at the reception.

We are all standing on his shoulders. Even today, me, being the mayor of the City of Houston, I am standing on the shoulders of pillars like John Chase. Now what we are attempting to do is build on top of those pillars, and continue to make him and so many others proud. . . . These are the sort of stories people need to read about and see. When you go through and tour this exhibit, it is uplifting, it is inspirational,  and it brings hope and light into the rest of us. It is about elevating the rest of us to a higher level. I am so proud of the life of John Chase and the legacy he left.