The 50 year old Gragg Building that now houses the Houston Parks and Recreation Department will be renovated. The building just southeast of downtown Houston has a rich history not only in the architecture, but the tenants who occupied the building. Houston Public Radio’s Capella Tucker reports.
To announce the renovation plans, 1950 and 60 vintage cars lined the car port in front of the Gragg Building. It was built in 1956 and originally housed construction and oil contractors. Then in 1961, the Manned Space Center was in the middle of a space race to the moon and was looking for a home. NASA Spokeswoman Eileen Hawley says officials came looking for a site just after Hurricane Carla.
“And they showed up to find streets littered with debris from Hurricane Carla, but they found other things as well. They found available land. They found they had access to waterways so that we would have access for barges to bring in equipment, we had access to institutions of higher learning and industry. And they found something else, the sort of warm greeting you can only find in Texas and in Houston.”
The Gragg Building, then called the Farnsworth & Chambers Building, had NASA for tenets until the first buildings at Johnson Space Center were completed in 1964. The building was designed by MacKie & Kamrath. Scott Reagan Miller researched the history of the building. He says the influence of architect Frank Lloyd Wright can be seen in the building.
“The use of natural materials and colors, bringing the outside to the inside, having the building seem to grow from the site, and integration of details both large and small.”
The building became the headquarters for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in 1976. Houston does not have a strong track record for preservation. Mayor Bill White says the Gragg Building renovation is an example of the community coming together for preservation of a public building.
“If there’s a definition of penny wise and pound foolish, it would be that loss of the commitment to preserving unique features of our history that could benefit those that come after us.”
The building sits on about 48 acres of park land. In addition to the building renovations, park facilities are expected to be added in the master plan. Constructions is expected to start next summer. To see pictures of the Gragg Building and learn more about its history, log on to KUHF dot org. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio.