22 Dec

Nestled in the shadows of contemporary skyscrapers, the landmark Spanish Renaissance-style Julia Ideson building, home to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) and part of the Houston Public Library system, is undergoing an ambitious, comprehensive restoration and expansion project. 

The result of this project will be an architecturally compelling venue that, in addition to serving those interested in the HMRC and its extraordinary collection of rare books, maps and photographic images relating to Houston and surrounding areas, will provide opportunities for Houstonians and visitors alike to enjoy its gardens, a grand public reading room on the second floor of the 1926 building, and exhibits, meetings and special events that will be showcased in this beautiful and historic setting.           

On Dec. 14, the completion of the expansion phase was celebrated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  The new 21,500 square-foot state-of-the-art archival wing includes a spacious research/reference room on the first floor and three floors of high-density shelving for the valuable holdings of the HMRC.   The wing is complemented by a new south loggia and adjacent palm-shaded public garden, also called the outdoor reading room. The two-story loggia, like the wing a part of the original plan for the 1926 building but never constructed, provides open-air seating on both levels and a gracious transition from the first floor of the original building to the outdoor reading room.            

The groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion took place on January 12, 2009 and the new wing is scheduled to open to the public in the first quarter of 2010 after the archives are moved into the new facility.   When the move is complete, work to restore the architecturally rich public spaces of the 66.000 square-foot 1926 building will begin.   The project is expected to be fully complete by Spring 2011. 

In October 2007, the non-profit Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners (JILPP) launched a major capital campaign to fund the expansion and restoration of the historic building across from City Hall in downtown Houston.  The campaign has now raised nearly $29 million of the $32 million project cost.

Located at 500 McKinney Street in downtown Houston, the three-story Julia Ideson building is named after Houston’s first professional librarian and was designed by noted Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram who also created the design for Rice University’s original campus.  Working with local architects William Ward Watkin and Louis Glover, Cram, one of the 20th century’s premier practitioners of various revival styles, chose the Spanish Renaissance style for the Ideson as he deemed it appropriate to Houston’s heritage and cultural context. 

Brick, stone and stucco comprise the building’s materials along with a tile roof that is characteristic of the building’s style.  Although the economic difficulties of the Great Depression thwarted the original plans for the Ideson’s envisioned south wing, loggia and outdoor reading room, the building will now witness the full realization of its original, complete architectural plan. 

“The Ideson is truly one of Houston’s historic gems,” said Phoebe Tudor, Chairman of the Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners.  “In addition to a new purpose-built wing for the archival collection, we want to provide a welcoming environment for Houstonians and visitors by creating new gardens and restoring the public spaces to their original grandeur.”

In addition to fulfilling its conceived role as an enhanced community resource, the Ideson is among the first Texas Historic Landmark projects on track for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in the state; JILPP hopes to receive a Silver designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.  An efficient air conditioning system and the use of indigenous plant materials along with recycled and low-emitting materials during construction are just a few of the key components that will help the project achieve LEED certification.  Spearheading this progressive project are the architectural firm Gensler, led by Houston architect and historian Barry Moore, and the landscape architecture firm TBG Partners, which was responsible for restoring the grounds of the Texas State Capitol and Austin’s Laguna Gloria art museum. 

The construction manager for both the new wing and the restoration is SpawMaxwell.  Gensler and TBG Partners have collaborated to develop a plan that reflects the Ideson’s Spanish Renaissance style and open spaces while preserving the architectural integrity of the building. “The distinctive smell of old books, the touch of rare documents, set amongst the Ideson’s ornate tiles and carvings, evokes an overwhelming sensation of historic significance,” said Barry Moore, senior associate at Gensler.


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