In 1965, the Nassau Bay National Bank opened its doors to the pioneers of space flight working on one of history’s most remarkable feats, a journey of humans to the moon and their return.
The building took up a corner lot just south of the two-lane road specially named NASA Road 1 for the facility being built on prairie land across the street, the Manned Space Flight Center, later re-named Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.
The bank stood large, nearly 12,000 square feet, and substantial with a concrete gray masonry façade, hip roof with a copper-clad covering, two stories high, eighteen feet on the first floor, nine on the second, arched windows, steps in front leading up to ten-foot- high carved oak double doors. It looked more like a church than a bank and must have been a source of local pride.
In the 1960s, Texas law didn’t allow branch banking which enabled each small community to establish its own financial resource, and several small towns were springing up around the space center. Houston, 20 miles to the north, saw an opportunity for annexation.
The issue divided Nassau Bay’s early residents, whether to incorporate as a city or become part of Houston. One homeowner, Ann Davidson, remembers homeowner meetings lasting past midnight, debating the important decision. Those who wanted their own city won.
The bank, established by the developer, Stewart Title Co., received its charter in 1963 and opened in 1965. Nassau Bay incorporated as a city in 1970.
In 1980, newly arrived in Texas, my husband and I entered through the imposing doors with some trepidation. We needed a sizeable swing loan to cover the purchase of a new house before the sale of the house up north closed.
The interior of this bank resembled a movie set. The flooring along the right side was red brick; brass posts with red velour ropes indicated where to stand while waiting your turn to approach the tellers whose stations glistened of polished oak. On the left side behind an oaken railing sat personnel at mahogany desks on burgundy carpet. A woman ushered us in. On her desk were a large thermos, cups, and a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
“Please sit down and would you like coffee and some freshly baked cookies?” The first words from the loan officer who led us into his office were, “How much do you need?” We had arrived in Texas.
Bob Scott, a vice president who had joined the bank from its beginning, remembers the coffee bar on the 2nd floor where, from a broad walkway with wrought iron railing, you gazed down at the activity below. The drive-thru bank was located just behind the building where you could walk or bicycle through to the tellers, an aspect of Texas culture that amazed us. Pennsylvania disallowed such practice.
When banking laws changed, several branch banks and then later a real estate office occupied the building. A tremendous change of purpose occurred in 1997. The Arts Alliance Center at Clear Lake (TAACCL) opened to offer artists’ exhibits; classes for painting, drama, cooking, and crafts; a summer camp for kids; a library and book store; and book signings for local authors, of which I was one.
I remember my own and my friends’ gatherings, opportunities to introduce our written work to the community. Groups of writers and poets met routinely, and musical groups, from bluegrass to symphony, performed. It served our cultural needs well.
Because astronauts and others involved in the space program lived in Nassau Bay, the tragic explosion in 1985 of Space Shuttle Challenger that took the seven lives of those aboard saddened us all. The Arts Alliance built seven fountains and planted flowers along the NASA Road 1 side of the building to honor their memory.
In 2008, when Hurricane Ike crashed into Nassau Bay and left many with seriously damaged homes and all of us without power for a week or more, TAACCL became the hub for telling our survival stories. And TAACCL had one of those stories of its own. Volunteers worked for hours before the storm struck to take the paintings from the walls and store them in the bank vault, which still remained at the rear of the building.
The future of the Arts Alliance in this building had to change, however, because of budget constraints. In 2012, a depleted staff moved to a much smaller facility and planned fewer offerings.
The empty building started to show its age and to decline without the necessary care. No cars appeared in the parking lot. Grass grew long around the perimeter. The Challenger fountains stood dry and untended, almost hidden by long weeds.
Finally a sign went up “for sale.” Those of us who had been around for a long time wondered what would become of our landmark.
And then we watched when the wrecker appeared, and men wearing yellow hard hats and orange vests prepared for demolition. Big, heavy equipment filled the lot. A wrecking ball knocked down a wall.
A backhoe piled up the concrete rubble and then another wall came down and the rubble pile grew again, until finally only the vault and the steel construction frame remained and then they were dismantled and hauled away. A 12-foot high mountain of soil remained on the vacant lot and then it too was hauled away. The lot stood empty.
What would be next, we wondered. It soon became obvious. A Valero gas station, 14 pumps and a store.
During recent years, watching the slow demise and then demolition of our gray concrete building was like the sorrow felt at the slow death of an old friend while treasuring the memories of better times. Our historic landmark is now gone. We mourn its passing.