Archival Wing Exterior. Photo by Joel Draut.
Archival Wing Exterior. Photo by Joel Draut.

Reading Room. Photo by Joel Draut.
Reading Room. Photo by Joel Draut.

Construction of new wing. Photos by Joel Draut.

Julia Ideson Building

The Julia Ideson Building, a City of Houston Protected Landmark, a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark, a Texas State Archaeological Landmark and a landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by the esteemed firm of Cram & Ferguson and dedicated in 1926. The building served the City of Houston as its central library until the opening of the adjacent Jesse Jones building in 1976.

Ralph Adams Cram was one of the country’s foremost practitioners of Gothic and other revival styles. In the case of this landmark building, he utilized a Spanish Renaissance style appropriate to the city’s Texas heritage. He also designed the campus plan for Rice University and Trinity Episcopal Church in Houston, the campus of Princeton University in New Jersey, the United States Military Academy at West Point, and St. John the Divine Church in New York City. He collaborated on the design of the Julia Ideson Building with the distinguished Houston architect William Ward Watkin, a professor of architecture at the Rice Institute (now Rice University) and a former employee of Cram’s.

Due to the economic crash of 1929, and the Great Depression, Cram & Ferguson’s total vision was not realized; when additional civic buildings were erected, they were in the “moderne” style of the 1930s.

The Julia Ideson building also contains the City’s largest installation of public murals completed under the post-Depression-era Works Progress Administration. At that time, the Houston Metropolitan Research Center was established under the leadership of Harold M. Hyman, today the William P. Hobby Professor of History, Emeritus, at Rice University. The Julia Ideson library was altered to include six floors of storage through the center of the structure for archived materials. Since its inception in 1979, the HMRC's archival collections have outgrown the space available and require more sophisticated climate and humidity control, and appropriate storage facilities.

In October 2007, an independent 501c3 organization, the Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners (JILPP) launched a major capital campaign. The Board of Directors raised more than $22 million of the $32 million goal, including $10 million from the City of Houston through the Downtown Redevelopment Authority/TIRZ #3.

The JILPP commissioned Gensler as the project architect and TBG Partners as the landscape architect and, in partnership with the City of Houston and Houston Public Library System, ensured the design and construction of the building was completed to the highest of standards in a financially responsible manner. A groundbreaking ceremony for the new archival wing took place on January 12, 2009 and the restoration of the 1926 building's public spaces began in early 2010. The grand reopening took place on December 5, 2011.

To see and learn more about the Julia Ideson Building, click here to access our online tour.

©2009 Houston Public Library - SPECIAL COLLECTIONS