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30 Jan 2019

The Man Before the Award: A Look at Back at Steve Chase, the Famed Designer Who Paved the Way for Desert AIDS Project to Become What It Is Today (Sponsored Content)

Written by  J. Allen
Steve Chase. Steve Chase.

On Feb. 9, Desert AIDS Project will be celebrating in a big way at its 25th Annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards gala.

To celebrate the silver anniversary edition of D.A.P.’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Barry Manilow will be performing a full concert. While virtually all of the attendees know about Barry Manilow, some of them may not know much about the man for whom the event is named—a man whose generosity is, in part, responsible for the success D.A.P. has had over the years.

Steve Barrett Chase, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 52—himself a victim of the AIDS epidemic—was a designer to the stars. His clients, according to the Los Angeles Times, included Rona Barrett, Dyan Cannon, Farrah Fawcett, Gene Hackman, Johnny Mathis and Joan Kroc, the owner of McDonald’s.

“He was a bigger-than-life character,” said Steve Kaufer, a friend of Chase’s who has been on the D.A.P. board of directors since 2007; Kaufer was also on the board from 1987-1997, and currently serves as the board president. “He was a very successful interior designer. I think his love for design and making things pretty started when he was really young in his life, and he pursued that.”

Chase came to Palm Springs to work with famed designer Arthur Elrod, and stayed in the Coachella Valley after Elrod died in a traffic accident in 1974.

“Steve was very talented and became very, very successful,” Kaufer said. “I had a subscription to Architectural Digest, and I think he was featured in Architectural Digest more than any other designer that I ever saw. 

“I always thought that maybe he had compromising pictures of (Architectural Digest editor) Paige Rense,” Kaufer said with a laugh. “In all seriousness, he was always in the magazine because his designs were literally all over the world. Of course, he designed in Palm Springs and in the desert area, but he designed internationally. He designed yacht interiors, airplane interiors—so he kind of did it all.”

Kaufer said Chase was someone who didn’t enjoy just sitting around.

“One of my early recollections is going over with a couple friends to his house, and everybody wound up playing croquet out on his lawn, and it was fun,” Kaufer said. “He was traveling. He was doing things. He was an avid jogger, and he was always very active.”

Kaufer said that when Chase became involved with D.A.P., one of the first things he did—not surprisingly—was lend his design talents to the fledgling organization.

“DAP started in 1984, and we had a small office, and then we moved to a facility on Vella Road in Palm Springs—but it was an industrial building,” Kaufer said. “I don’t know what it had been used for before we moved in, but it was pretty rough around the edges, and Steve became involved. He used his talents and his firm, and he also leaned on a lot of his vendors to donate services and products that could be used in his work at the DAP to make it look pretty. 

“He felt that, just because we were a charity, and we were dealing a lot of times with people who lived below the poverty level, we didn’t have to have an office that looked horrible. He wanted people who came in to have a nice environment in which to be in, to receive their care, and to work.”

In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was difficult to raise money for HIV- and AIDS-related service organizations like D.A.P., because the virus and disease such carried a huge stigma.

“It wasn’t popular to be a corporate sponsor of an AIDS program, and many people in the area of normal philanthropy didn’t look at AIDS as an area that they wanted to get involved in,” Kaufer said. “Steve recognized that, and he used his celebrity and his contacts with major stars and big people like Joan Kroc, and President and Mrs. (Gerald) Ford, to try to expand the giving that D.A.P. received from groups that we normally wouldn’t get funding from.”

Those contacts paid huge dividends, as did Chase’s personal generosity. Not only did Chase lend significant support to D.A.P.; he also gave major support to the organizations today known as The Living Desert and Gardens, and the Palm Springs Art Museum.

In the case of D.A.P., the organization Chase championed is now in the midst of its biggest period of expansion to date—a $20 million project, slated for completion in 2020, that will more than double the organization’s patient capacity. The expansion, called vision D.A.P. Vision 2020, is necessary in part because D.A.P. is now a Federally Qualified Health Center—meaning anyone in need of primary medical care can walk in D.A.P.’s doors and become a client. When the expansion is complete, D.A.P.’s 60,490-square-foot campus will be able to serve 8,000 patients, up from 3,900 in 2017. The dental clinic will be able to help 1,700 people, compared to 814 in 2017, while the behavioral-health-patient capacity will rise from 583 to 1,200.

I asked Kaufer what Steve Chase would think if he could see where D.A.P. stands today.

“He would be very proud—very pleased,” Kaufer said. “Steve was a big personality, and he did things in a big way, and he would be very pleased to see what was going on at Desert AIDS Project and the expansion of our mission to provide health care for not only people with HIV and AIDS, but a community that really needs quality health care, and has no other source for it. He’d be very proud. 

“He’d also probably start looking at the plans and saying, ‘No, we can’t have that wall there. We need to do this, and the lobby has to be a little bit different, and we need some different furniture,’ Kaufer added with a laugh. “He would want to put his mark on it, and ensure that it looked good, so that people, when they came there for treatment, would feel special.”

To donate to the D.A.P. Vision 2020 expansion, call Christopher Ruetz, D.A.P.’s Director of Major and Planned Giving, at 760-656-8450, or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information on Vision 2020, visit dapvision2020.org.

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