Fonde Recreation Center
The Fonde Recreation Center stands near modern downtown high-rises & the Victorian homes of the Sixth Ward. Fonde Rec, as the athletes who congregate there call it, may not stand as tall against the sky as the office buildings just across I-45 do, but it has had a towering influence on many Houstonians through the years.
Fonde Rec: The Early Years
The area underwent big changes in the mid-1950's. The Memorial Drive parkway was being built as a major road from downtown Houston toward the west. Construction of I-45 from downtown to Dallas, and around the business district to connect with the Gulf Freeway, was being planned. Office buildings were going up at a rapid pace. Allen Parkway Village, built as San Felipe Courts in the 1940's, teemed with young families across the Sabine Street Bridge & Allen Parkway. In 1954, the City of Houston spent $32,500 for one & a half acres at what would become the intersection of Sabine & the Memorial Drive access road.
The Fonde Recreation Center was built there in 1960. Designed by MacKie & Kamrath, one of Houston's most futuristic mid-century architecture firms, it was named after Miss Corinne Fonde, an early proponent of regular athletic activity as a part of health & education & the director of the Recreation Division of the Houston Parks & Recreation Department from 1919 through 1946.
The new building was a modern temple to recreation. It was fully air conditioned & included an 8,192 square foot gymnasium, an exercise room, and space for crafts classes & senior activities. From the first, it was a popular spot for athletes to meet & test their skills.
Fonde Rec: The Cascio Years
From its opening, Fonde Rec has been well used & well staffed. Among the first employees to enter its doors was Angelo Cascio, who worked as the evening recreation director there for 26 years. In that capacity, he organized the games on the basketball court, ruling them with a loving, but iron-willed, authority recognized by all.
And the action was intense. Neighborhood players flocked to the games & played with abandon. When the University of Houston Cougars needed a home away from home due to ongoing work on their court, Cascio invited them to use the space at Fonde, and they were impressed by the level of play they saw when the regulars took the court after practice. Cougar stars Don Chaney & Elvin Hayes kept coming back for the action, brought their friends with them, and word got out that college level players could be found working on their skills at Fonde Rec.
In the early 1970's, the level of play jumped again when the Rockets came to town. The reputation of the nightly games reached the pro players, and they began to join the action. Word spread across the country about Fonde Rec, and articles featuring the basketball program, its world-class talent, and Angelo Cascio appeared in such publications as Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, and "the Back-In-Your-Face Guide to Pickup Basketball," to say nothing of the Houston Post & Chronicle, the Houston Defender & Forward Times, Texas Monthly, and the Dallas Morning News. Famous names showed up in those articles: Moses Malone, Jackie Dorsey, Major Jones, Clyde Drexler, Lou Dunbar, and (as he was then known) Akeem Olajuwon were all listed as regular players, and Robert Reid & Charles Barkley came to town, dropped in to see for themselves, and stayed & played.
Imagine the draw for basketball fans, being able to see world-class pros interacting on the court, free of charge! And imagine the thrill for those picked to play with them! Cascio kept the games moving in the interest of giving the less experienced players the chance to compete, and if they could handle the pressure to perform, they played. An untold number of athletes have improved their skills in those games at Fonde Rec, some going on to play basketball at high school, college, or beyond, but all would agree that their life skills improved, as well.
The Cascio era ended when Angelo died in 1986. In his honor, play went on.
Fonde Rec: Refurbished & Reopened
In 1988, the center was closed for repairs authorized as a Capital Improvement Project totaling $587,000. A new air conditioning system was put in, and the lighting, kitchen facility, and restrooms were upgraded. Handicapped access was improved, the exercise room & senior & crafts areas were upgraded, and a magnificent new maple floor was installed on the basketball court.
In the best Angelo Cascio tradition, the center reopened in December 1990 with a basketball tournament. The staff is currently headed up by Earlmond Hammond.
Fonde Rec is home to a wide range of activities. The exercise room is well equipped for free weights, dumbbells, universal gym, bicycles, and treadmills. Seniors have their own basketball games & ongoing pickle ball games (yes, pickle ball). Aerobics classes, badminton, volleyball, and, of course, basketball keep the rafters ringing with the sounds of fun. Check the most recent Activities in the Park catalog or call the Fonde office at 713.226.4466 for schedule information.
Fonde Rec, A Houston Landmark Now & For Years To Come
Fonde Rec is a unique & wonderful facility. The sports & exercise programs that go on there are planned for a wide range of enthusiasts, and the crowds passing through its doors attest to its success.