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  The deed to Johnson Space Center (Does Rice Univ. own the site where JSC stands?)

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Author Topic:   The deed to Johnson Space Center (Does Rice Univ. own the site where JSC stands?)
Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-19-2008 02:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The deed to Johnson Space Center, or does Rice University own the site where JSC stands?

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...

4allmankind
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Posts: 715
From: NJ
Registered: Jan 2004

posted 05-21-2008 04:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 4allmankind   Click Here to Email 4allmankind     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Also of note is that on page 150 of Chris Kraft's book "Flight" he states that "an oil company donated a lot of land to Rice University, which then deeded much of it (but not all) to NASA free and clear".

kr4mula
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Posts: 599
From: Cinci, OH
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 05-22-2008 11:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From what I read/heard (can't recall where), the donation wasn't altruistic. Humble Oil, or at least its owner, retained a significant amount of otherwise almost worthless land in the area. He knew that if NASA built a center there, he could make a fortune selling land to developers or developing it himself. I don't remember hearing how that worked out. Given the difference between the area then and now, someone certainly made some money!

Peg Purser
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posted 01-17-2009 04:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peg Purser   Click Here to Email Peg Purser     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Exxon had/has a development company called Friendswood Development and they developed Clear Lake City which has over 10,000 homes and massive commercial properties. The City of Houston annexed them in the early 1970s.

They also developed Kingwood up northeast of Houston and Bush Intercontinental Airport — it is now part of the city. They have other major developments and planned communities.

So, yes, Exxon was very wise to give the land to Rice so that it could pass it on to NASA. Virtually all the original MSC/JSC staff lived in this new Clear Lake City area so worthless undeveloped flat land not near anything turned into a boon for Exxon.

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