The Julia Ideson Building was completed in 1926 as Houston’s main library. It replaced the Houston Lyceum and Carnegie Library, which opened in 1904 on the corner of Travis and McKinney, but was quickly outgrown by Houston’s growing population and the building needed to be replaced.
After the city purchased the Bagby family home site in 1922 as the new library’s location, the library’s Board of Trustees chose Ralph Adams Cram of Boston as the architect for the new building. Mr. Cram was already well-known for his work at West Point, Princeton, Houston’s Trinity Episcopal Church and Rice University.
A six-month trip to Spain inspired Mr. Cram’s interest in Spanish-style architecture, resulting in his design of this building in the Spanish Renaissance style. The L-shaped building fulfilled head-librarian Julia Ideson’s three (3) wishes: flexibility of the library rooms, good ventilation for our Houston weather, and plenty of windows to let in the light. The construction was overseen by local architects William Ward Watkin, J. M. Glover and city architect W. A. Dowdy and the work was completed October 1926.
In 1951, Houston’s City Council voted to name the main library in honor of Julia Ideson, the city’s first professional librarian who served in this capacity for 42 years, from 1903-1945. Her name was carved over the front door of this building as a lasting monument to her tireless work.
Fifty years later, in 1976, a new Central Library was completed next door and the Julia Ideson Building became home to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, the first archival branch of the Houston Public Library.
A $32 million capital campaign launched in 2007 by the Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners underwrote the construction of a new archival wing added to the building using the original architectural plans. This wing was never completed due to lack of funds after the Great Depression. In December 2011, a restoration of the original building was also completed as a part of this project.
The Julia Ideson Building is now a City of Houston Protected Landmark, a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark, a Texas State Archaeological Landmark, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is also a beloved treasure of Houston’s downtown landscape enjoyed by visitors once again showcasing Houston’s history and architecture.