Renovation is underway on what is thought to be the one of the first commercial designs by pioneering architect John S. Chase. The one-story, 1,450-square-foot building at 1191 Navasota Street is a Central East Austin fixture with a lineage of deep ties to the surrounding community.

Built in 1952, the building has a basic modernist look with a few elements of almost Googie-like flair. According to an article on the website for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas (which will operate out of the building post-renovation), it was likely Chase's first commercial commission, at least for a new building rather than a redesign. Chase was the first Black graduate of the university's school of architecture and the first Black architect licensed in the state of Texas. 

Chase's best-known work is in Houston, but his first practice was in Austin, where his legacy of community-focused design, particularly in East Austin, remains relevant and meaningful. He designed the building on Navasota for what was then called the Colored State Teachers Association of Texas. The group dropped the word "colored" in 1955, disbanded in 1966, and transferred members and assets to the Commission on Democracy in Education, which it had established to address unequal salaries and advocate for educational advance. CODE leased and then sold the building to the family of Ella Mae Pease, who operated the House of Elegance beauty shop—an important community space in the neighborhood for several decades.

The University of Texas purchased the building in 2018 to convert it, appropriately, to the UT Community Engagement Center, part of the school's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Carter Designs was contracted to create the renovation plans, which are being implemented by the university's Project Management and Construction Services department. The renovation is expected to be completed in spring 2021.