Olivet Baptist Church

1179 San Bernard Street, 78702
John S. Chase
Oliver Street Construction Company
Mid-Century Modern


Olivet Baptist Church is an 11,000-square-foot place of worship located in the historically Black neighborhood of East Austin. The single-story structure has served the community as a religious and cultural institution since 1961 and was designed by the important Black architect John S. Chase.


Olivet Baptist Church was designed by John S. Chase, the first African American to graduate from the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and the first Black registered architect in Texas. Chase designed many buildings across the state, ranging from houses and commercial buildings to an estimated 300 churches.

Austin’s Black population was forcibly moved to the east side by the 1928 Master Plan, at which time many services and institutions serving the Black community were relocated or established in the area. In the post-WWII era, East Austin continued to grow, and greater access to education and jobs brought more economic prosperity. The simultaneous increase in population and prosperity led to the growth of congregations and the need for larger worship facilities. Among these was Olivet Baptist Church, which hired Chase to design a new building to fit their expanding program.

The building is designed in a Mid-Century Modern style but retains many traditional elements. Chase discussed the appropriateness of using a more contemporary style in churches in his thesis project at UT. He felt that contemporary forms would connect the building more directly to the period of cultural growth that the Black community was experiencing. The Mid-Century Modern style also helped to make the building stand out in its more traditional surroundings.

The structure is topped with a three-tiered pointed steeple, a traditional element that helps to make the building instantly identifiable as a church. The sloping roof forms a dramatic pointed gable over the entrance, intersected by a series of smaller gables that reflect Chase’s fondness for the designs of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The large windows around the main entry feature very simple rectangular patterns, inspired by the stained-glass windows of traditional churches as well as Wright’s window mullion designs. The interior showcases a large, wood-paneled wall behind an elevated pulpit surrounded by seating for the choir and speakers. The wood itself is plain, without any carved decorations. The exposed wood structural ribs—with their slight curves and tapered ends—and the wooden pews are the only other elements in the space. – Albert Condarco, AIA, NOMA

Photo Credits:

Bud Franck, AIA (1-9); Leonid Furmansky (10)