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In 2006, the Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners (JILPP) was formed as a Texas not-for-profit corporation. Chaired by Phoebe Tudor, this group accepted the challenge of raising the funds necessary to build a new archival wing for the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, located at the Ideson Library since 1976, and enhance and restore the historic building designed by noted Boston architects Cram & Ferguson. The capital campaign was launched in October 2007 and raised $32 million by October 2010.
Ralph Adams Cram was one of the country's foremost practitioners of Gothic and other revival styles. He also designed the campus plan for Rice Institute (now Rice University) and Trinity Episcopal Church in Houston, the campus of Princeton University, the United States Military Academy at West Point, and St. John the Divine Church in New York City. For the Ideson Library, Mr. Cram utilized a Spanish Renaissance style appropriate to our city's Texas heritage and collaborated on the design with distinguished Houston architect William Ward Watkin, a former employee of Cram's who was at the time a professor of architecture at Rice Institute.
Cram's building was to replace the city's 1904 Carnegie Library on the corner of Main and McKinney. Houston had hired its first professional librarian, Julia Ideson, in 1902 and as the city quickly grew she worked tirelessly on plans for a larger facility. The new building at 500 McKinney opened in 1926 and served Houston as the city's main library until the opening fifty years later of the new and larger Central Library next door. Miss Ideson headed the Houston Public Library for 42 years until her death in 1945. In 1951, by order of the City Council, the beautiful library that she loved was named in her honor.
Phase I – Construction
A groundbreaking ceremony for the new wing was held in December 2008. One year later, the official ribbon-cutting for the wing took place. After final construction details were completed and the archival collections moved from the original building to the wing, the Houston Metropolitan Research Center re-opened to the public on April 5, 2010.
Architect Cram's original plans for the Ideson Library included a south wing, two-story loggia and "outdoor reading room" but none of these features were built due to lack of funds. The library now boasts a 21,500 square-foot wing with adjacent loggia and fenced garden. The wing is a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly archival storage wing with a spacious research/reading room on the first floor, a rare books/special collections vault on the second floor, and 2.5 floors of high-density archival storage. The HMRC's collection includes
- 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, the second-largest collection in the State of Texas
- 7,000 volumes of rare children's books
- 12,000 volumes of rare books and 3,000 rare pamphlets in the John Milsaps collection, first donated to the library in 1904
- 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
- More than 300 rare maps of Texas, Houston and the Southwest dating from 1561.
Phase II – Enhancement and Restoration
Following the move of the HMRC's archival collection into the new wing, restoration work began on the original building in March of 2010. In addition to the abatement of hazardous materials, electrical, plumbing and air-handling upgrades, a new elevator and a new roof, all exterior surfaces were cleaned, missing cast-stone pieces such as roof finials were replaced, and the front plaza re-configured and re-landscaped while protecting and preserving the champion bur oaks. A new fence, similar to that shown in Cram & Ferguson's 1923 presentation drawings, defines the main approach from McKinney.
Inside, intricately painted and coffered ceilings in the public rooms were restored. Historic light fixtures were re-lamped and reproduction fixtures made for areas where originals no longer existed. New photo and book conservation 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.
Most of the furniture in the public spaces is original to the Ideson Library or to the 1904 Carnegie Library. The built-in bookcases in the second floor Reading Room and in the Norma Meldrum Room on the first floor are original. Paintings and sculptures throughout are from the Houston Public Library's collection, and many of the works were previously displayed in the Ideson and/or Carnegie libraries.
The Ideson Library also contains the city's largest installation of public murals completed under
the Works Progress Administration program after the Depression, which have now received appropriate care from professional conservators engaged by the Houston Arts Alliance.
As a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark, a City of Houston Protected Landmark, a Texas State Archaeological Landmark and a landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Ideson Library's distinctive architecture and decoration have been preserved to be enjoyed for generations to come.
The restored library re-opened to the general public on December 5, 2011. In addition to being the permanent home of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and staff members of the Houston Public Library and Houston Public Library Foundation, Houstonians and visitors alike will enjoy the new Exhibit Hall that will host rotating shows of items from the HMRC's collection and visiting exhibits, and the magnificent Reading Room. The Reading Room and Exhibit Hall will be open to all during regular library hours.
The Ideson Library's beautifully restored public spaces will be available for special events including receptions, parties, meetings, lectures, and weddings. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.