Julia Ideson LibraryWhen it was first constructed in 1926, the Julia Ideson Library was intended as the centerpiece of a five-building civic center in Downtown Houston.  But then came the Crash and the Great Depression, and those other public buildings were never built.  Today, this Spanish Renaissance building is hemmed in by modern skyscrapers and buildings, including the Jesse Jones Library next door.

This was the central library until the Jesse Jones Library was constructed in 1976.  How well I remember the sweeping marble staircases, whose treads were “dished” by the feet of countless readers.  Then there were the intricately carved balusters; the ornate ceilings; and the WPA-era murals.  Stepping from steel-and-glass contemporary Houston into this library was like stepping back in time.

How fitting, then, that this building is now the repository of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center .  This collection houses over four million photos of Houston’s early years, as well as architectural drawings, historic maps, and rare books and pamphlets.

The Julia Ideson Library was designed by the Boston architecture firm, Cram and Ferguson, whose other projects include the campus plan for Rice University, Houston’s Trinity Episcopal Church, the campus of New Jersey’s Princeton University, the US Military Academy at West Point, and New York’s St. John the Divine Church.  The Julia Ideson Library is a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark, a City of Houston Protected Landmark, a Texas State Archaeological Landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A 21,500 square foot state-of-the-art archival wing is currently under construction on the south side of the building, and it follows the original architectural plans.  The goal is to “create a welcoming environment, (including a public reading room in the historic Texas Room) and beautifully landscaped gardens so that more Houstonians may enjoy this historic building and its grounds.”  (Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners, www.ideson.org )  The new wing includes a two-story loggia with open-air seating on both levels, giving a gracious transition to the palm-shaded courtyard or “outdoor reading room”.  Completion of this project is planned for the summer of 2011.

The Julia Ideson Library, at 500 McKinney, is located seven miles from downtown West U.  Visitor’s Tip:  Inexpensive basement parking is located under the nearby Jesse Jones Library.

Roger Martin