Chase was born on January 23, 1925, in Annapolis, Maryland. When his parents, Viola Hall Chase, a teacher and cook, and John S. Chase, Sr., a school principal and postal worker, separated, Chase was raised primarily by his mother.
On June 7, 1950, when Chase enrolled at the University of Texas, the university became the first major university in the South to enroll an African-American. Federal marshals shadowed Chase when he first arrived at the University of Texas in June 1950. His intentions were never to become an icon but to get the education he desired to complete the architecture program.
After graduating from college, not one white firm would hire him, Chase moved to Houston to start his own firm. In 1963, he built the Riverside National Bank, the first black-owned bank in Texas. He also designed homes, churches and union halls along the Gulf Coast.
In 1971, he and 12 others founded the National Organization of Minority Architects. Chase also became the first black president of the UT alumni group, and the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.