Chase, John Saunders (1925–2012)

By: Merline Pitre

Type: Biography

Published: May 23, 2013

Updated: April 8, 2021

John Saunders Chase, the first African American licensed to practice architecture in the state of Texas, was born in Annapolis, Maryland, on January 23, 1925, to John Saunders Chase, Sr., and Viola (Hall) Chase. His father was a school principal, and his mother was a teacher. After receiving his early education in the public schools, Chase graduated from Bates High School in Annapolis. He served in the United States Army from 1944 to 1946, and during World War II he was engaged in combat in the Philippine Islands. He received several military decorations for his service. Chase then earned a bachelor of science degree in architecture at Hampton University in Virginia in 1948. In 1950 he became the first African American to enroll in the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. He graduated in 1952.

Unable to find a job at White firms and not ready to return to his native Maryland, in 1952 Chase relocated to Houston where he began his professional career. In that same year, he was appointed assistant professor of architectural drafting at Texas Southern University and established John S. Chase A.I.A. Architect, Inc. Chase’s early design projects included schools, homes, churches, and small public buildings. During his long and distinguished career, Chase accomplished a number of firsts. He was the first African American licensed to practice architecture in Texas and the first Black to be a member of the Texas Society of Architects and the Houston Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA.) In 1971 he cofounded the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). Appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, he became the first African American to serve on the United States Commission on Fine Arts.

Chase’s architectural signature can be found locally, nationally, and internationally. At Texas Southern University, he designed the Ernest S. Sterling Student Life Center, the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanities buildings. In Houston he collaborated on the design of the George R. Brown Convention Center and the Washington Technical Institute. He also assisted in the design of the Links, Incorporated, and Delta Sigma Theta national headquarters as well as the Astrodome renovation. On the international level, he was commissioned to design the United States Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia.

For his works, Chase received numerous awards. He was elected to the AIA College of Fellows and was awarded the AIA Whitney M. Young Citation. He received the NOMA Design for Excellence Award for four consecutive years. An active civic leader, Chase was the president of the Houston Club and served as the first Black president of the University of Texas Exes. He served on the boards of the University of Texas Health Science Center, Hampton University, and Hermann Hospital. Chase died in Houston on March 29, 2012, and funeral services were held at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. He was survived by his wife, Drucie Rucker Chase, two sons, and one daughter.

Houston Chronicle, April 1, 2012. Houston Defender, April 5, 2012.

  • Architecture
  • Architects
  • Education
  • Educators
  • Art and Architecture
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Visual Arts
Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Merline Pitre, “Chase, John Saunders,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022,

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May 23, 2013
April 8, 2021

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