In the Sea of the South Side Floats an Island Unto Itself: Chase Court

Before there was Ryan Place’s Elizabeth Boulevard, with its forty-four “exclusive” homes along seven blocks, there was Chase Court, with its fourteen “exclusive” homes along just one block.

Chase Court is just southwest of the intersection of Hemphill and Allen streets.

In a sense Chase Court was even more exclusive than Elizabeth Boulevard: Chase Court was enclosed by a wall and was gated; its single street was not a public thoroughfare. Chase Court was a private island of exclusivity floating in the sea of the South Side.

chase 1850 2Chase Court was the namesake legacy of Edwin E. Chase, who was born in Callaway County, Missouri about 1848. As a young man he worked for a brake company in St. Louis. After moving to Texas and investing in cattle in Callahan County, about 1883 he moved to Fort Worth to become first a partner in a loan and investment business and then a banker.

chase heir 11-24-85 dmn

This article in the November 24, 1885 Dallas Morning News indicates that Chase might have inherited some of his wealth. Regardless, in 1887 Chase bought a tract of land south of the city when the South Side was sparsely settled.

chase-89-progressIn 1889 Chase built a $50,000 ($1.3 million today) mansion with red granite columns imported from Maine.

4819451Chase’s mansion—Bellevue Hall—was a three-story Victorian showcase of hand-cut limestone. The estate also had a two-story stone barn and a stone stable. Even the windmill was ornate—of stone and brick with windows and a balcony.

Architect of Bellevue Hall was A. N. Dawson, who had partnered with Marshall Sanguinet in the 1880s. Local historian John Shiflet believes Dawson acted as supervising architect, using a house plan drawn by California architect Samuel Newsom, but Dawson used Bellevue Hall in his advertising in the Fort Worth city directory.

Edwin E. Chase raised horses on his estate when he wasn’t working to bring stockyards and packing plants to town, developing real estate, and building the Rosedale streetcar line from downtown to the South Side. The Rosedale line extended from Rosedale Pavilion in the Samuels Avenue area to Fairmount and Ryan Place along Hemphill Street and College Avenue. The line went right past Bellevue Hall (see below).

Chase also was vice president of the Riverside Street Railway Company, which operated for two years in the early 1890s. The tracks ran from downtown to Riverside and ended at Como Park, home of the Como Social Club, which hosted an annual Maifest.

In 1888 the Fort Worth Board of Trade, of which Chase was president, published this curio: a booklet promoting Fort Worth entitled The Capitalist, a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 The Mikado. Chase’s Merchants’ Bank advertised in the booklet.

chase johnson 11-11-91 dmnBut in 1891 Chase’s bank filed suits against him and others totaling $108,000 ($2.7 million today). The Jake Johnson mentioned in this article, who lived two blocks from Chase, was a gambler-racehorse owner and a proprietor of the Palais Royal Saloon on Main Street. Johnson was the only witness to the Short-Courtright gunfight in 1887. Luke Short worked at the Palais Royal in his later years. Clip is from the November 11 Dallas Morning News.

chase-fire 7-25-93 gazEdwin E. Chase never saw the exclusive subdivision Chase Court. As the 1890s advanced he lost his fortune and fell into debt. On July 24, 1893 the heavily insured Chase mansion was damaged by fire. Clip is from the July 25 Gazette.


In 1900, despondent because he was losing his sight, Chase committed suicide at age fifty-two. At the time he was the guest of former Police Chief James H. Maddox.

The fire-damaged Chase mansion was rebuilt about 1900 but downsized as an eight-room, two-story stone house. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

In 1906 a local land syndicate bought the Chase property to develop it as a gated subdivision called “Chase Court.” The Telegram (and later Star-Telegram) announced building plans as lots were sold ($8,000 would be $175,000 today; $10,000 would be $230,000; $20,000 would be $460,000).

chase-bought-by-ralllThe land syndicate rebuilt the original Chase mansion. In 1907 Elbert George Rall, a partner in the syndicate, bought the rebuilt mansion. Then, after Chase Court was platted, twenty men and one mule raised the rebuilt mansion and moved it ninety feet from lot 3 to lot 4 to rest over a full basement. A crowd gathered to watch.

The 1910 Sanborn map shows the rebuilt and relocated Chase mansion as the new subdivision’s first house. The two outbuildings shown probably are E. E. Chase’s original stone barn and stable. (Laurel Street is now Allen Avenue. Cactus Street is now Jefferson Avenue.) (Sketch of E. G. Rall, who was a prominent grain wholesaler, is from Makers of Fort Worth.)

Chase Court quickly became a desirable address, populated by lawyers, judges, doctors, oilmen, and one bare-handed baseball pioneer. Over the years the enclave even became its own dating pool: Sons and daughters found spouses across the street or next door.

Chase Court residents were often mentioned in the society pages of the newspaper. Especially active were the Rall and Johnson families.

By 1908 the word court in Chase Court had a different meaning to young lovebirds who perched on Chase Court’s eastern wall to bill and coo (if you’re under forty, look it up).

This Star-Telegram report of 1920 shows the Chase Court building boom. Most of the nine surviving houses on Chase Court date from the early 1920s:

1 Chase Court: first house on the right inside the Hemphill Street gates. Built in 1921 for Edward and Hattie Parsons. A later owner was Leo Potishman, who, like Rall, owned a grain company. Potishman established the Leo Potishman Foundation, which has supported many Texas colleges.

3 Chase Court: the grandest house of those remaining. Built in 1912 for Dr. Clay Johnson, who operated a sanitarium downtown and was chief physician of the Fort Worth & Denver railroad. His wife Alice was sister of Governor Beauford Jester. E. E. Chase’s original house stood about where lot 3 is today.

4 Chase Court: After the rebuilt Chase mansion was moved to lot 4, E. G. Rall bought it. In the early 1960s the rebuilt mansion—like the original mansion it had been built from—burned. All that remains of the Chase/Rall residence is a sidewalk, a semicircle of limestone foundation, and a granite carriage step with rings for hitching horses. The carriage step is now in front of the Potishman house at 1 Chase Court.

9 Chase Court: the 1920 garage of Dr. Gilbert E. LaBeaume. Dr. LaBeaume’s main house was torn down in 1973. The garage has a “mushroom roof”—the eaves are rolled to simulate thatched roofs of Europe.

11 Chase Court: built by V. S. and Annie Wardlow. Their daughter Verna married Frank Culver, who became a Texas Supreme Court judge. Their daughter Jessie married Dr. Talbot next door at number 10.

12 Chase Court: can be seen under construction in the 1920 Star-Telegram panel above.

clarke mug

Built for George Carson Clarke (1871-1935), for whom a nearby elementary school is named. Clarke was a South Side developer (Shaw-Clarke, Hubbard Highlands, Hemphill Heights), school board president, and superintendent of city parks.

In 1923 Clarke brought to the zoo three-year-old Queen Tut, who remained a favorite of zoo-goers for forty years. (Postcard from Barbara Love Logan.)

The second owner of the house on lot 12 was Charles James Swasey (1847-1939). After fighting for the Union in the Civil War, in the late 1860s Swasey was an infielder for two early baseball teams: the Chicago Excelsior and the Forest City Club of Rockford, Illinois. Back then fielders did not wear gloves. (Swasey’s teammate A. G. Spalding would help change that.) After Swasey moved to Fort Worth in 1873 he co-founded one of the town’s first wholesale liquor and tobacco companies with Martin Casey. Swasey also was on the first board of directors of B. B. Paddock’s Fort Worth & Rio Grande railroad in 1885.

The house at number 12 later was a Methodist parsonage. Mrs. Elliott, the lady of the house across the street at number 3, planted a row of cedar trees in front of her house to screen her view of the parsonage because the Reverend Baumfalk was inclined to wear shorts outdoors.

13 Chase Court: dormers and shutters and beaucoup French doors. Built in 1920, this house is six years older than Queen Elizabeth and Chuck Berry. The boy of the house, Hugh Calhoun Jr., married society belle Estelle Rall of number 4 across the street.

14 Chase Court. Built in 1920. Among early owners was Ernest M. Rogers, a wholesale grain dealer. The building in the rear originally was servants quarters.

The 1922 city directory offers a snapshot of Chase Court in its prime. The houses on lots 6, 9, and 10 also had servants quarters.

By the 1970s the original residents of Chase Court were gone, and most of the houses were fifty years old. This classified ad for the Clarke/Swasey house on lot 12 refers to Chase Court as an “older prestige area.”

A new generation of owners converted garages and servants quarters and rented them as apartments.

Chase Court, along with the Hemphill corridor, suffered a period of decline in the last part of the twentieth century, but today Chase Court thrives with residents who appreciate the history they are custodians of. After 115 years Chase Court, the little South Side island, still gives us, in its single block, a glimpse of a time when $65,000 would buy a mansion, when young couples courted to the clang of streetcars, and when a row of cedars could shield a modest woman from an immodest Reverend Baumfalk.

(Thanks to Chase Court resident Todd Camp.)

Posted in Architecture, Casas Grande, Century Club, Life in the Past Lane, South Side | 9 Comments