I produced this article in 2012 for submission to the Sharpstown Civic Association's newsletter. But the editor said there wasn't space for it, so it wasn't printed. So here it is. Article posted online on February 22, 2013.
Front row, left to right: Walter Shirra (1923–2007), Deke Slayton (1924-1993), John Glenn (born 1921), and Scott Carpenter (1925-2013). Back row, left to right: Alan Shepherd (1923-1998), Gus Grissom (1926-1967), Gordon Cooper (1927-2004)
With the nation’s attention focused on the Space Race and the September 1961 announcement that the Manned Spaceflight Center (now the Johnson Space Center) would be located in Houston, local officials began preparations to welcome NASA and the seven original astronauts. Land developer Frank Sharp wanted to welcome the astronauts not only to Houston but also to his growing Sharpstown community, offering in late February 1962 to provide the astronauts with brand-new, fully furnished homes in Sharpstown for a steeply discounted price as a token of “friendship, gratefulness and admiration.” Of course, having astronauts in Sharpstown would be a nice status symbol and provide publicity to speed the sale of new homes. The homes, each with a total value of $45,000 to $50,000 ($345,000 to $383,000 in 2012 dollars), were to be provided to the astronauts for $10,000 each, about $77,000 in 2012 dollars. The homes were planned to be next to Sharpstown Country Club in the County Club Estates section with the cost covered by Sharp and anonymous donors in the Houston homebuilding industry. While the astronauts were very pleased with the offer, within a week NASA ruled that federal employees were prohibited from receiving such large gifts, so the astronauts were forced to decline it.
But Frank Sharp didn’t give up. Sharpstown was the location of the 1962 Parade of Homes to be held in the first half of July, perfect timing for the July 4 arrival of the astronauts. The Parade of Homes, an annual event launched in 1952, showcased a collection of new homes with the latest designs and interior decorations. The 1962 Sharpstown Parade of Homes featured 33 new homes on the 8800 to 9000 blocks of Rowan Street, west of Gessner between Augustine and Pella, with most priced between $22,000 and $24,000 ($168,000 to $184,000 in 2012 dollars). In late March Frank Sharp and the Houston Homebuilder’s Association made a second offer to provide each astronaut a free home on the Parade of Homes. Further review had concluded that it was in fact legal for the astronauts to receive the gifts, and the only concern about acceptance was public perception, especially after the astronauts had entered into a $500,000 agreement with Life Magazine for exclusive rights to stories (about $550,000 per astronaut in 2012 dollars). The Houston Chronicle reported that the astronauts had agreed to accept the homes, but another report stated that the White House was reviewing the situation. The Life agreement had already upset NASA management due to concerns about commercial exploitation of the astronauts, and the free home offer sparked a furor at NASA headquarters. Four days later on April 3 it was reported that the astronauts had officially declined the home offer. The astronauts decided it was better not to further rile NASA management and the White House since it could lead to cancellation of all deals, including the lucrative Life agreement.
Even if the astronauts had accepted the offer, it was widely believed that they never intended to actually live in Sharpstown. The Right Stuff, the most well-known history of the original seven astronauts by Tom Wolfe which was made into a film, states that the astronauts planned to sell the homes and pocket the money.
The Parade of Homes on July 1-15 was launched with a large advertising section in the newspapers. The homes on Rowan Street were the first homes in the County Club Terrace 3 section of Sharpstown, and the directions stated that the homes were “clearly visible from Bellaire Boulevard” across a then-vacant field. The main entrance to the event was on Pella Street from Bellaire and ten acres of parking were provided. Homes were open until 10 PM nightly. Numerous homebuilders were represented, providing a distinctive collection of custom homes which are a departure from the more cookie-cutter “production” homes found throughout the rest of Sharpstown. The home at 9015 Rowan, on the southeast corner at Pella, was the Life magazine “Home for Better Living.” Designed by Washington DC architect Donald Lethbridge, its theme was “outdoor living” with a design emphasizing natural light. Advertisements for other homes touted their themes, including “For Luxury Tastes” at 8807 Rowan, “Oriental Modern” at 8830, “A-Frame Polynesian” at 8834, “Monterrey Design” at 8910, “Miniature Mansion” at 8915, “Romantic Orientale” at 9006 and “Cape Cod Colonial” at 9011.
By fall of 1962 the original seven astronauts had settled into the Clear Lake area, with John Glenn, Scott Carpenter and Walter Shirra buying homes in the Timber Cove subdivision and Gordon Cooper building a new home in El Lago Estates. The exclusivity of the original seven astronauts was somewhat diminished when NASA announced a second group of nine new astronauts in September 1962. In the second group was Edward H. White, II, who became the first American to walk in space and died in the 1967 Apollo 1 capsule fire. Edward White Elementary on Triola Street is five blocks from the scene of the 1962 Parade of Homes. Today, developers still use the Parade of Homes to promote home exhibitions in new subdivisions around Houston, but the events are no longer held annually in a single neighborhood.
Oscar Slotboom was born and raised in Sharpstown and is a 1985 graduate of Sharpstown High School