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Sunday, November 18, 2018

City

NASA’s first home undergoes major remodeling


graggpark4

The multi-million dollar renovation includes a new soccer field and a playground. | Ajani Stewart/The Cougar

NASA’s journey to the moon started a stone’s throw from the University of Houston. Now, the agency’s original building and first home is about to complete its $3.5 million renovation.

Since 1976, Gragg Park has been the location for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department’s headquarters, which is housed in the old NASA building. The park is sandwiched in between the Brays Bayou and Interstate 45 on Wayside Drive.

It also features a soccer field and a playground area with a modular unit with slides, decks and climbers.

“If you can engage a community in their neighborhood park by giving them access to the same amenities that other communities have, then you can make a positive impact in their lives and make a difference,” said Joe Turner, director of HPARD.

The park’s reopening coincides with HPARD’s 100th anniversary. The department plans to use the opportunity to showcase the improved green spaces in Houston and new initiatives.

“We saw the problems every day as walkers would come out to the (old) park for their exercise,” Turner said. “Even without a trail to walk on.”

The park has been a key part of the community as well as the site of a Houston historic footnote.

When NASA first arrived in Houston, the government rented several buildings across the city to temporarily house its equipment and staff. The NASA’s Computer and Data Receiving Division was located in a small brown building off Cullen Boulevard, across from present day Cullen Oaks.

The large protruding satellites remain from when the building hosted NASA scientists and KUTH- Channel 8.

After the success of the Mercury mission, President John F. Kennedy granted Houston the bid to build their own space center.

In 1964, three years after Kennedy’s historic visit to Houston, a permanent NASA facility opened in nearby Clear Lake. The old headquarters shifted hands a few times, but eventually wound up as the home of HPARD nestled into Gragg Park.

NASA has gone to the moon, but it began aiming there in the facility and several others scattered around Houston. After renting the building for a few years, NASA moved out.

HPARD aims to provide every Houstonian access to a park within a half mile. Gragg Park, along with other developments, fit into this overarching plan to improve every Houstonian’s health, wellness and lives.

“That’s what parks do,” Turner said. “They change lives.”

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