JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - RANDOLPH, Texas –
Built in the image of Missions Concepción and San Jose in San Antonio, the main chapel at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph has served the spiritual needs of the base community since it was completed in 1934.
Not only does the chapel retain its original mission, it has remained largely unchanged since it was the last building constructed during JBSA-Randolph’s initial construction phase, said Gary Boyd, Air Education and Training Command historian.
“It’s one of the great buildings on Randolph to visit if you want to see historic architecture in almost pristine state,” he said. “This is a historic base with a historic campus and the chapel is very much like it was in 1934 when it was opened originally.”
Situated on Washington Circle across Northeast Drive from the Taj Mahal, the chapel, built at a cost of $66,000, was finished a few years after most of the initial construction at Randolph was completed because it was not considered “mission-essential,” Boyd said.
The structure is distinguished by its six stained-glass windows – none of them original to the building – and its “rose window” that, like the structure itself, hearkens back to the Spanish colonial period.
“The chapel is known for having six of the most original stained-glass windows in all of the Air Force and all of the military, each of them dedicated to different memorializations,” Boyd said.
Two of the stained-glass windows are dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Gertrude Lahm, wife of Brig. Gen. Frank Lahm, who commanded the Gulf Coast Air Corps Training Center at Randolph during the base’s initial construction, and Maj. Gen. Augustine Warner Robins, another former commander of the Air Corps Training Center at Randolph.
Other windows are dedicated to the memory of those who died serving their country: flight surgeons, San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center graduates, instructors and enlisted members.
The rose window on the west façade of the chapel, above the building’s main entrance, is a copy of Mission San Jose’s famous Rose Window, Boyd said.
“The Spanish loved to have a light that was an embodiment of the stars and the sun,” he said. “They came up and shone directly onto the altar. The rose window here at our base chapel is stained glass and beautiful and one of the very best pieces of its type within the Air Force.”
Another unique feature of the chapel is the absence of a cupola on the right tower.
“They left it unfinished because the Spanish would not tax a building that was unfinished,” Boyd said. “In deference to that tradition, they left it the same way here at Randolph, so you get a feel for hundreds of years of history when, in fact, it’s only about a century old.”
One of the little-known facts about the chapel is that some of the leading figures in the Air Force’s history have been married there, including Maj. Thomas McGuire, Boyd said. McGuire died for his country in early 1945.
“Every time you sit in one of the pews, you feel a link and a direct kinship with the history of the Air Force,” he said. “Tom McGuire was the second leading ace in Air Force history, and other aces have been married there as well. We don’t have a direct catalog of all the main events and some of the large funerals and weddings that have happened there, but when you look at the history of Randolph, which is now almost 90 years old, you feel kind of a wave of history when you go in the chapel.”
Boyd called the chapel one of Randolph’s “great jewels.”
“They spared no expense on our chapel or Randolph,” he said. “It was built at the height of the Depression, and the idea was to keep people employed and to inspire Airmen who were coming through, and it certainly does that.”