The Julia Ideson Building was built in 1926 to serve as the Houston’s main public library. The Spanish Renaissance-style building was designed by noted Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram.
In 1976, the main library moved to a new adjacent library building and the Julia Ideson Building became the primary repository for state and local historical documents including millions of vintage photographs. However, the building’s crowded shelves, dim lighting and lack of temperature and humidity control were less than ideal for old books, documents and maps. So, in 2006, a non-profit group was formed to oversee the building’s renovation and restoration.
Restoration work included abatement of hazardous materials, electrical, plumbing and air-handling upgrades, a new elevator and a new roof. In addition, all exterior surfaces were cleaned, missing cast-stone pieces were replaced and the front plaza was re-configured and re-landscaped.
Inside, intricately painted and coffered ceilings in the public rooms were restored. Historic light fixtures were re-lamped. A major new Exhibit Hall was created in the former archival stacks location. New photo and book conservation and digitization labs were created. The volunteer and staff lounges were remodeled and offices were created for the Houston Public Library’s executive staff and the Houston Public Library Foundation. In addition, a large, ground level assembly room was refurbished.
Most of the furniture in the public spaces is original to the Ideson. The Julia Ideson Building contains the city’s largest installation of public murals completed under the post-Depression-era Works Progress Administration. All of these were carefully restored by fine art conservators.
The building now serves as a grand public reception hall, an exhibition gallery and a wonderful place to enjoy vintage books. The project was awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.