On a sunny Friday afternoon, famly members of John S. Chase—the first Black student to graduate from the School of Architecture and Texas’ first licensed Black architect—joined university leaders and Center for Community Engagement staff at the grand opening of the university’s new John S. and Drucie R. Chase Building.
Located in the heart of East Austin, the historic 1,450-square-foot building serves as a central hub for university-community gatherings and student-led community service projects. As the new home for the Center for Community Engagement, the building will provide numerous free resources and services to the public and programs addressing systemic inequities affecting historically marginalized communities in Austin and beyond.
Due to public safety concerns, the event was held privately in honor of the Chase family members. A public community-wide celebration will be held later in the spring of 2022. Below are some photo and video highlights from the gathering, which took place on Friday, Oct. 1.
Dr. LaToya Smith, vice president for diversity and community engagement, provided a warm welcome to the guests, noting that the new building will be the university’s front porch for underserved communities in Austin and across the state.
“We hope to honor the memory of John Saunders Chase and Drucie Raye Rucker Chase with our use of this space for community groups and community members,” Smith says. “This is a nod to John Chase’s vision of architecture as serving part of the democratic process. As architectural historian Stephen Fox has said, ‘John’s buildings embraced the future that was determined to be better than the past.'”
UT Austin President Jay Hartzell shared a brief history of John S. Chase, pointing out that the former Texas Exes president embodied the university’s mission: What Starts Here Changes the World.
“Here at 1191 Navasota, we stand on ground that is now part of the Forty Acres,” Hartzell says. “Like John, it is a beacon of hope — one that speaks to the transformative power of education, one that speaks to the power of change and progress. I’m so glad this beautiful building is now an extension of our campus.”
During the event, guests toured the spaces within the building, which include an atrium displaying archival pieces from the building’s history and special collections provided by community partners; a collaboration center for public gatherings; and the Texas Grants Resource Center, connecting grant-seekers with tools they need to launch nonprofits, apply for research grants and more.
Guests also explored the outdoor areas including UT’s “Front Porch” to the community, a patio area for meetings and get-togethers; and the Plaza, a lawn space that will serve as the site for large and small festive events—inviting neighbors not only to the front porch but also to the backyard.
University leaders and members of the Chase family concluded the celebration with a ribbon-cutting to mark this historic moment in UT Austin history.
Built in 1952, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and originally served as the headquarters for the Colored Teachers Association of Texas. Throughout the years, the minimalist-inspired building has boasted a long history of social impact in the Black community, most recently as the House of Elegance. Visit the Center for Community Engagement’s website for more information about the history of John S. and Drucie R. Chase and of the building itself. You can view more photos form the event on the DDCE’s Flickr site.