Until recently, many employees of Houston's Parks and Recreation Department weren't aware that when they strolled down to the supply room for paper clips they were walking in the footsteps -- literally -- of pioneers of the American space program.
The department's offices are in a southeast Houston building that was home to NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center from 1962 to 1964. It was here that the Mercury astronauts paved the way for their Apollo successors to win the race that put Americans on the moon before their Soviet competitors.
The building's history and design have been highlighted in a $16 million renovation intended to transform it from an obscure bureaucratic center into a public amenity. The parks department intends to lease part of the building and its courtyard for public events, such as weddings, to recover some of the costs and make the property more familiar to the community.
"I consider this building a piece of art," said Joe Turner, the city's parks and recreation director, who has overseen the renovation and successful efforts to achieve local, state and federal historic designations for the building.
City officials will dedicate the renovated building in a ceremony Friday. Turner said he hopes the public event leases can begin by the spring of next year...