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Author Topic:   NASA's original 'interim' facilities in Houston
drscoop
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Posts: 47
From: Macclesfield, UK
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-18-2016 09:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for drscoop     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've been spending a little time thinking about the establishment of the Manned Spacecraft Center (later Johnson) in Houston and what became of the temporary sites used whilst the facility was being built. My startpoint was the following quote from "This New Ocean," NASA publication SP-4201.
Gilruth and other officials of the Space Task Group reacted quickly to the Webb announcement. The very next day they flew into Houston to begin a search for an estimated 100,000 square feet of temporary floor space. Moving began in October 1961, when Martin A. Byrnes, as the local manager, and a small cadre of center operations, procurement, and personnel employees opened offices in Houston's Gulfgate Shopping City. By mid-1962, when the move was completed, activities were scattered in 11 locations, occupying 295,996 square feet of leased office and laboratory space in the vicinity of Telephone Road and the Gulf Freeway. For both old and new employees, a street map was a necessity in the coordination of information among the various offices located in the dispersed buildings. Besides the leased quarters, NASA personnel liberally used surplus facilities..."
As far as I can tell, the following are the locations of the sites that were used during that transition time, but I'd very much welcome any corrections or other historical context to make this a more accurate record. I have highlighted where I have made assumptions, there is conflicting opinion or facts are sketchy.

Clarifications would be very welcome...

The original location chosen by Gilruth was some spare office facilities at the Houston Office Center located at 6100 Gulf Freeway in the now demolished Gulfgate Shopping City, replaced by a Home Depot and the Gulfgate strip mall. During the early 1960s, the planned 11 sites grew a little and 14 additional sites were finally defined:

  • Site 1: The construction site for the present Manned Spacecraft Center, at Clear Lake.

  • Site 2: the Farnsworth and Chambers Building, became NASA Headquarters in Houston and was located at 2999 South Wayside Drive. This Frank Lloyd Wright-style building was occupied by Gragg Drilling from 1959 and was renamed the Gragg Building just before NASA moved in. It is now the city's Parks & Recreation Department.

  • Site 3: The Rich Building housed the Space Flight Office, Spacecraft Research Division and Systems Evaluation and Development Division and still exists at 6040 Telephone Road and is now the current AmBox building, a metal fabrication shop.

  • Site 4: Lane Wells Building. Across the freeway from the Gulfgate Mall location, this building at 2002 Wayside Drive was distinguished by an oil rig out the front (now gone?) and housed the Life Systems Division.

  • Site 5: The Houston Petroleum Center and Stahl and Meyers Building between them housed the Project Mercury, Gemini, Apollo Flight Operations Divisions and Mission Control teams. The old Stahl and Meyers Discount Appliance Center was opposite Site 4 and shared the building with Oshman's Sports Outlet warehouse, with NASA being located on the upper floor. Both buildings now appear to have gone; the discount center has been replaced with a large Walmart. The Petroleum Center now appears to be the Sanchez Charter School, though some buildings in keeping with the style of the old Center remain between the school and the Red Carpet Inn motel. I can't see any firm evidence as to whether these existing buildings were those used by NASA or not.

  • Site 6: The East End State Bank Building at 4200 Leeland Street was the Personnel and Security Divisions.

  • Site 7: The Flight Crew Operations Division was located in two office blocks described as "two dumpy, early 60's low rise office buildings." These two appear to be the Office City buildings on Office City Plaza.

  • Site 8: Ellington Air Force Base housed the Procurement, Financial Management, Photographic Services and Supply. Out of interest, I can't see any evidence on Google Earth that the outdoor pool used for training the Mercury 7 for capsule egress is still in existence — does anyone know what happened to the pool?

  • Site 9: Minneapolis-Honeywell Building, at 5440 Gulf Freeway housed the Public Affairs Office.

  • Site 10: This one caused me some confusion to track down, being listed as both the Canada Dry Building and the Robert's Carpets building. I believe the Technical Services Division was potentially housed across both buildings, located around 4750 Gulf Freeway. Most citations refer to the Canada Dry Bottling Plant off Canada Dry Road, which appears to be the 1940's style building recently the home of Sun Belt Foods. However, a 2008 NASA publication also lists the now-Robert's Carpets building as the home of Site 10. Again, clarification here would be good if anyone has firm recollections?

  • Site 11: The old semi-cylindrical hut used by the Data Computation and Reduction Division at 4513 Cullen Blvd then became home to the studios of KUHT Channel 8 TV. It's now part of the University of Houston, adjacent to (part of?) the Safety and Ergonomics lab.

  • Site 12: I have no firm location for the Peachy Building, which housed the Facilities Division. Best guess is it is now demolished and occupied the site in front of what is now the Royal Palms Apartment Complex off Griggs Road, between Royal Palms Street and Sunrise Road.

  • Site 13: 2504 Beatty Street. NASA reportedly used four of the six apartment buildings in what was the Franklin Development Complex (now St John's Apartments), but I can't find any accurate record of what was actually housed here.

  • Site 14: Veterans Administration Building, 2320 La Branch Street. Now houses, amongst other things, a Child Development Center, but as with site 13 I can't see any clear record of what this site was used for at the time.
Does any one have any more information on these sites, or clarifications to the uncertainties noted above?

LM-12
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Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-18-2016 12:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is a Houston map showing some temporary locations in Chapter 3 of NASA SP-4307 Suddenly, Tomorrow Came ... A History of the Johnson Space Center. Site 10 is shown as the Canada Dry Building on the map.

Site 2 (NASA Headquarters) can be seen in photo S62-03939.

drscoop
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Posts: 47
From: Macclesfield, UK
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-18-2016 01:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for drscoop     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks. I'd stumbled across that map when starting to look into this and it came in really helpful, particularly trying to pin down locations like Site 12.

Site 10 is still a point for a little confusion as the map location indicates the Robert's Carpets building (referenced with photos in the NASA "First Days in Houston" article) but the same source then discusses the bottling plant to be the same site on the following page, suggesting both buildings were used. See pages 28 and 29 here. The inference seems to be that the staff of the Technical Services division were in the bottling plant, but the associated machine and fabrication shop was in the Roberts's Carpets building.

LM-12
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Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-18-2016 03:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Photos of Sites 7, 9, 10 and 12 are in the June 27, 1962 issue of Space News Roundup on page 2. The Peachy Building (Site 12) address is given as 5511-5513 Griggs Road.

Site 13 is mentioned in the October 31, 1962 issue:

Manned Spacecraft Center has added another site to its temporary facilities in Houston, this one designated Site 13 ...

Four of six buildings originally intended as apartments are being modified as offices ...

The Flight Crew Operations Division has moved from Office City to the new site.

The Technical Information Division will also move into Site 13.

LM-12
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From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-18-2016 05:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Site 14 is mentioned in the November 28, 1962 issue:
Latest addition to Manned Spacecraft Center's temporary sites is the former Veteran's Administration Building at 2320 LaBranch near the downtown area of Houston. The building will be ready for occupancy in December. It will eventually be the new home of Gemini Project Office, Gemini Procurement, and in the future of the Reliability and Flight Safety Office.

LM-12
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From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-19-2016 05:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A December 2015 Google street view shows an abandoned white building on Griggs Road that sure looks like the Site 12 photo mentioned earlier.

drscoop
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Posts: 47
From: Macclesfield, UK
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-20-2016 03:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for drscoop     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree - the carport/overhang and window placements are identical - excellent find!

Those "Space News Roundup" articles are a great resource - I was unaware of their existence. Thanks for highlighting them.

LM-12
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Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-20-2016 09:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It still had the balcony back in November 2007.

LM-12
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Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-21-2016 06:34 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is a 1962 photo of Site 3 in the Rich Building.

drscoop
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From: Macclesfield, UK
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-21-2016 02:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for drscoop     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
And that original facade is still in place, even with the same lights either side of the door...!

LM-12
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Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-21-2016 10:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by drscoop:
Those "Space News Roundup" articles are a great resource

The first issue of Space News Roundup was November 1, 1961. The headline read "STG Renamed: Will Move"

The big move from Langley AFB to the various temporary sites in Houston began in October 1961. The move from those temporary facilities to Site 1 at Clear Lake began in February 1964.

So MSC operated out of the temporary locations for the Mercury orbital flights of Glenn, Carpenter, Schirra and Cooper.

LM-12
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From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-23-2016 07:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
During that period, the NASA Group 2 and Group 3 astronauts were announced. Group 2 photo S62-6759 was taken at the Cullen Auditorium at the University of Houston.

I suspect Group 1 and 2 photo S63-01419 and Group 3 photo S63-18765 were taken in the Farnsworth and Chambers Building (Site 2) control room.

LM-12
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From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 07-31-2016 10:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From Space News Roundup in the November 13, 1963 issue:
Approximately 30 Manned Spacecraft Center employees, including the astronauts, moved recently from Houston into two rehabilitated buildings at Ellington Air Force Base.
Which site number did they move from? Was it Site 13?

drscoop
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Posts: 47
From: Macclesfield, UK
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 08-03-2016 03:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for drscoop     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Though I can't find anything to back this up, I think that might be a strong possibility — I suspect they were previously at either site 5 or site 7?

LM-12
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Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 08-03-2016 10:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by drscoop:
I believe the Technical Services Division was potentially housed across both buildings, located around 4750 Gulf Freeway.

The May 16, 1962 issue of Roundup has the Technical Services Division located in the Rich Building.

LM-12
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Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 08-04-2016 08:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
JFK visited the Rich Building (Site 3) in September 1962. Nice set of photos.

LM-12
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Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 08-09-2016 11:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
So far, we have seen NASA signage on Sites 2, 3 and 12. Here is a photo of MSC Site 9 with NASA signage. Check out those vehicles.

drscoop
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Posts: 47
From: Macclesfield, UK
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 04-06-2017 10:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for drscoop     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Following on from the original posts, I've just returned from a trip to Houston and visited all the original sites discussed in this thread.

A blog of this visit, with images of the sites as they exist as of April 2017, can be found here, if it's of interest...

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 38788
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 04-06-2017 11:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That was a fascinating (virtual) tour! Great to see.

I knew about and have driven past a couple of the sites in the course of living here for the past decade or so, but your research goes beyond the locations of which I was aware.

Now, if we could only find the (rumored) spot where Alan Shepard's car was buried under the tarmac at Ellington...

dtemple
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Posts: 689
From: Longview, Texas, USA
Registered: Apr 2000

posted 04-06-2017 11:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dtemple   Click Here to Email dtemple     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have not heard the rumor about Shepard's car. Which car, when, and why according to the rumor?

Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 38788
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 04-06-2017 11:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The way it was told to me, it was a prank (gotcha) by some of the other astronauts and occurred sometime in the late 1960s, early 1970s. New concrete was being laid down at the time and Shepard's car was submerged and paved over.

No other details then that. It could very well be a local urban legend...

LM-12
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Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 01-11-2018 05:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Photo S63-00893 shows Site 13, the Franklin Development Complex. Here is a high-res version of the image.

LM-12
Member

Posts: 2465
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Oct 2010

posted 02-01-2018 12:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LM-12     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here is a high-resolution image of Site 14, which was the Veterans Administration Building. Photo number is S62-06240.

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