Who owns the land on which Johnson Space Center now stands?
Above: An aerial view of Site 1, the Manned Spacecraft Center, in 1963 during early construction.
By some accounts, the land was outright donated by Rice University. Others say the university still owns the property and rents it to the U.S. government at a rate of $1 per year.
In the NASA publication "Suddenly Tomorrow Came... A History of Johnson Space Center," Henry Dethloff wrote in 1993:
On Sept. 19, 1961, NASA announced that the $60 million manned space flight laboratory would be located in Houston on 1,000 acres of land to be made available to the government by Rice University. The land was owned by Humble Oil Co. [now Exxon] and given to Rice to give to the government. In addition to acquiring title to this donation from Rice, the federal government subsequently purchased an additional 600 acres needed to give the site frontage on the highway. A 20-acre reserve-drilling site fell within NASA's total 1,620-acre site.
But what does "made available" and "acquire title" exactly mean in this case?
Recently, this question was raised by several people at JSC as the result of a NASA History briefing during which the topic was mentioned. Sy Liebergot (former Apollo EECOM, author and cS member) was copied on the resulting research, which he very kindly shared with collectSPACE.
As it turns out, Rice neither donated the land nor does it still own (and rent) it. Instead, it sold the land to the government in September 1962 for a total of $20 ($10 for 1020 acres [PDF, 2.0mb], and $10 more for 600 acres [PDF, 1.8mb]), as the deed [PDF, 458k] clearly states ("granted, sold and conveyed").
(The copies of the deeds are from JSC History Collection at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, courtesy JSC Historian Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, Ph.D.)
The myth of the donation/lease is widespread, from NASA to Rice to independent sources. So, now you know...