After nearly three years of work, the historic Julia Ideson Library in Downtown has reopened to the public.
Set amid the glass and steel skyscrapers of the Central Business District, the Spanish Renaissance-style library dates back to the late 1920s. Named for Houston’s first professional librarian, the three-story, 66,000-square-foot Ideson Library sits just across McKinney Street from City Hall. The ambitious, multi-million-dollar project to complete the building’s initial design and restore its original grandeur began in 2009.
New elements include a state-of-the-art archival footage wing and work areas, plus an outdoor garden and reading room that complement the original, historic structure. The building will serve not only as a place for research and work, but also as a venue for exhibits, meetings and special events. The library is now home to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and remains part of the Houston Public Library system.
When the library was being constructed, parts of the master plan were scrapped as the Great Depression was taking hold. The nonprofit Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners formed in 2007 to raise money to restore the building and complete the original design. By 2010, the group had raised more than $32 million for the initiative.
The Houston Metropolitan Research Center inside the Ideson boasts a valuable collection, including 4.5 million photographic images of historic events and everyday life in Houston and the area, 150,000 sets of architectural drawings from more than 250 architects, 7,000 volumes of rare children’s books, 12,000 volumes of rare books and 3,000 rare pamphlets in the John Milsaps collection. Numerous rare books, such as a fifteenth-century illuminated Book of Hours from Flanders, a 1520 edition of The Odyssey, a 1615 edition of Don Quixote and first editions of Moby Dick and Alice in Wonderland are also part of the collection.
Self-guided tours are offered during regular hours and guided tours are available by appointment; call 832-393-1661.
The Ideson Library is one of the first Texas Historic Landmark projects on track to be LEED certified for environmental sensitivity and energy efficiency.