Chapel for the Children
Austin, Travis County
Listed May 9, 2022
Chapel for the Children (now All Faiths Chapel) is an interfaith house of worship built in 1961 for the spiritual education of young residents at the Austin State School, Texas’s first public institution for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Treatment for persons diagnosed with IDD evolved during the postwar era as more compassionate attitudes towards, and activism for, this vulnerable population increased nationwide. Religious education came to be seen as a core component to a holistic approach that fostered feelings of positive self-worth, purpose, security, and joy in children with IDD. Under the sympathetic and driven leadership of the Board for Texas State Hospitals and Special Schools, the Austin State School implemented its clinical pastoral program when it hired Reverend Luther Hollaway in 1956. Chapel for the Children was built because of his advocacy and the efforts of interfaith groups who raised $100,000 in donations from citizens across Texas. Dedicated in 1962, the chapel is an excellent example of postwar modern A-frame religious building. Its triangular form, steeply pitched roof, glazed gable ends, and steel-frame supported glulam decked interior ceiling are distinctive characteristics of the tent-form style that enjoyed pervasive, yet brief, popularity in the 1950s-1960s. Built before persons with disabilities had legal rights to equal access, the human scale of the interior plan prioritized accessibility for its young congregation with wide entrances and aisles to accommodate those with wheelchairs. The building features excellent acoustics and integrated colorful stained-glass windows of simple abstracted birds that reflect the importance of music and graphic arts in teaching religious concepts to persons with physical and cognitive impairments. Chapel for the Children is the only known example of architect David C. Graeber’s effort to render spirituality in built form. Expressive of faith, warm, and emotionally powerful, the chapel demonstrates Graeber’s architectural ability and enthusiastic dedication to the project for which he donated his services. The nominated building continues to serve as a place for spiritual and religious practices by Austin State Support Living Center’s residents, family members, employees, and the public.
It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A in the area of Social History: Disability History at the state level of significance and Criterion C in the area of Architecture at the local level of significance. It meets Criteria Consideration A (Religious Properties) because Chapel for the Children derives its primary significance for its historical association and architectural distinction. The period of significance is 1961 -1972, representing the years it served as an interfaith chapel for AuSSLC’s students through the current 50-year threshold for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Download the nomination (pdf)