Houston Parks and Recreation Department

H.P.A.R.D. Park Histories


Vaquero Sculpture

Luis A. Jimenez's sculpture "The Vaquero" was installed at Moody Park in 1978


1836 - 1919

1920 - 1936

1937 - 1978

1979 - Pres.


It was illegal to pasture cows in parks or on esplanades.

Park employees had police power to enforce rules and regulations and were deemed police officers by the City of Houston with the power to make arrests.

Houston's largest and only lighted fountain was at Forest Park Cemetery. Car loads of sightseers drove by nightly to view it.

City Council debated over whether city pools would be free or a fee accessed. Council did not want Houstonians wandering around the city wearing bathing suits. They could not decide on whether to have 1 central pool or 5 neighborhood pools.

Hermann Park had a donkey trail with 14 donkeys at the zoo. An aquarium was under consideration at Hermann Park.

A request was made to the School Board to open up school grounds for park use. A request was made again in1951.

The Parks Department was recreated after the Depression with a Board of 6 Park Commissioners. Mrs. Josephine Milby Hamman proposed gift of parkland in her father's memory, Mr. C. H. Milby.


The WPA undertook construction of recreation buildings in Emancipation Park and Milby Park. City government moved from Market Square to the brand-new City Hall at Hermann Square December 3, 1939. Designed in exuberant Art Deco style by Joseph Finger, it was one of Houstonís first air-conditioned office buildings.

Miss Annette Finnigan, a longtime advocate for womenís suffrage and other civil rights issues, donated 19 acres to the city that became Finnigan Park, the second public park reserved for the exclusive use of black Houstonians. Miss Finnigan was white.


165 acres of Memorial Park was set-aside for a non-profit Arboretum.


The Public Parks Department's budget was $150,000


The close association and similar goals of the Recreation and Public Parks Departments precipitated their merger in 1943. The Houston Parks and Recreation Department was created in March of 1943 under the City Manager form of government, through the consolidation of the Department of Parks, Department of Recreation and the Department of Golf.

The first Director of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department was C. C. Fleming. Corine Fonde, who had served in the capacity of Superintendent of the Recreation Department since its inception, was named Assistant Director.

In 1943, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department had a total of 3,000 acres of parkland, half of which came from private gifts. The first year budget of the Houston Parks and Recreation Department was $297,972.


The Houston Parks and Recreation Department had three neighborhood swimming pools.


The Houston Parks and Recreation Department had a total of 90 parks.


The Houston Parks and Recreation Department had a total of 109 parks.


Train #982 was dedicated at Hermann Park and the miniature train was established.

The Department had a total of 130 parks or approximately 4,000 acres of parkland; several miles of riding trails in Hermann Park and Memorial Park; an archery range in Memorial Park; 68 tennis courts; 19 swimming pools; 10 pools of the 19 were operated as pay pools. Adults paid 25 cents and children paid 15 cents; 9 baseball diamonds; 64 softball diamonds; 26 recreation centers with year-round supervised recreation programs and 25 schools for the summer program; 7 community recreation buildings with part-time recreation program; a zoo that was open every day - free; an outdoor amphitheater garden club center; and 1 tennis center.


Fonde Recreation Center was built at 110 Sabine Street, in the shadow of downtown.


The new Miller Outdoor Theatre opens.

Public interest in recreational opportunities near the new Lake Houston Dam on the San Jacinto River led to the opening of Eisenhower Park. Its original 300 acres downstream of the spillway were increased to 682 the following year.


The hand-carved limestone columns of the original Miller Outdoor Theatre, built in the 1920s, were used in the construction of the attractive Mecom-Rockwell Fountain on Fannin Street, across from Hermann Park at a cost of $35,000.


In January 1977, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department purchased the former NASA building at 2999 South Wayside. For the first time every section of the department could be housed at one location.

O. L. Gragg, an oilman and Palestine, TX resident, donated the 15.67 acres of land, surrounding the Parks' building, with the provision that five acres be reserved as a green area to be named Gragg Park.

In September 1977, George Lanier resigned as director of the Parks Department, a position he held since August 1974. Mayor Fred Hofheinz appointed James S. Hart, who had been with the department since 1967, as acting director.


Mayor Jim McConn appointed former Assistant Director James S. Hart as the new Parks and Recreation Director.

The Memorial Tennis Center burned down December 15,1978 between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m. The center suffered an 80% loss.

The City of Houston bought the Sharpstown Country Club for $2,160,932. The original golf course purchase consisted of 140.882 acres, but 7 more acres were added in 1980. The course and its new swimming complex were opened to the public in 1982.