How Clear Lake was developed around NASA

HOUSTON – Before the 1960s, before NASA built the Manned Spacecraft Center in the Clear Lake area, there was not a lot there -- not a lot of homes, businesses, not a lot of people. But there were several businessmen who had a vision. And an entire thriving community was soon created by a few good men. 

It was 1967 and at just 27 years old, Joe Barlow moved to the Clear Lake area.

"Just like they were risk takers going to the moon, and establishing that program, the business community, we were risk takers, too. Taking the same risk, only in a different way," said Joe Barlow, who helped develop the Clear Lake area.

He was a young attorney and he soon joined Houston businessman Fred Griffin in a development program that would change the landscape of Clear Lake forever. 

Aerial photo of Clear Lake from 1960s
Aerial photo of Clear Lake from 1960s

"We've developed about 10 buildings, nearly 900,000 square feet in the Clear Lake area, so I've seen Clear Lake grow, grow, grow," Griffin said.

Griffin was an ambitious guy, too, at just 25 years old.

As the space industry took flight, young families planted roots. New businesses began to flourish. And an entire community of space families created a home of their own.

Griffin and Barlow were tasked with creating commercial developments in the area and to keep up with the demand created by NASA.

Clear Lake City entrance sign
Clear Lake City entrance sign

"You were here because of NASA. You were here because you believed in what they were doing and you wanted to be a part of it as a businessperson," Barlow said.

"The growth of Clear Lake was there, and when the Apollo program ended, then it slowed down and now it's back up. I've been fortunate to see that whole cycle and it's been fascinating to me," Griffin said.

"You're really being a part of history. You're watching people make history and you realize you're part of that," Barlow said.

Their program took 30 acres of abandoned buildings and turned them into office buildings.

Clear Lake aerial image from 1960s
Clear Lake aerial image from 1960s

From 1970 to 1984, they developed 11 buildings -- all within four blocks.

They don't think Clear Lake would be what it is today without NASA, and without all of the space families, or modern-day pioneers, who 50 years ago were willing to settle on open space as their loved ones began to explore outer space.

Click here to see more of our special coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing.

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