Inspired by the Spanish Renaissance style, architect Ralph Adams Cram blended Spanish Renaissance elements and added some decorative Texas appointments of regional iconography to the façade of the new library he was building. The façade closely resembles the main building of the Universidad de Alcalá in Henares, Spain which is near Madrid. Founded in 1499, the university was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
Two cameos on the front façade facing McKinney Street depict famous men from Texas history during the frontier. On the right over the door is Father Antonio Margil, the “Spanish Father of Texas Education.” He traveled into Texas in 1716 as a missionary, and during his life he founded three colleges, hundreds of missions, and several hospices, forts and towns in Mexico and Central America. The cameo over the door on the left depicts French explorer Rene’ Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the first European to explore Texas.
Across the top of the façade are the “Six Flags Over Texas.” These are the flags of the six countries that have had sovereignty over some or all of the current territory of the U.S. state of Texas: Spain (1519–1821), France (1685–1690), Mexico (1821–1836), the Republic of Texas (1836–1845), the Confederate States of America (1861–1865), and the United States of America (1845–1861; 1865–present).