Old Downtown Library Could Get Face-Lift, Expansion

A new, historic preservation project aimed at revamping and possibly expanding Houston's Julia Ideson Library building needs your input. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the downtown landmark is bursting at the seams with several million archived pictures, rare books and priceless architectural drawings that chronicle the city's history.

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When it opened in 1926, the Ideson Building, with its red tile roof and classic Spanish Renaissance Revival style, quickly became one of downtown's architectural treasures. More than 80 years later, it's still a busy place, the home to more than four million records that tell the story of Houston.

Ideson Library"This building is one of the city's true icons, we don't have many like this in the city or the state. Both preserving and restoring and making this building a building we can live in and work out of is really, really important."

John Middleton is the assistant director of planning and facilities for the city's library department. He's part of an effort, started by Houston Mayor Bill White, to preserve, but also improve and expand the building to properly store Houston's history.

"It wasn't designed to be an archive, it was designed to be a library and there's a difference in how you handle those materials. And so the goal here is to create a space where we can both properly house the city's archives and there's space for people to access them and use them."

One idea is to add a new wing to the back of the library, specifically designed to store and protect fragile pictures, books and documents. Other options include the possibilty of adding a coffee shop or book store to attract more patrons. Phoebe Tudor is the Chair of the Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners.

Ideson Library"The building is not in bad condition. It was built to last. It needs to be updated, it needs to be cleaned-up, it needs to be utilized in better ways to make the most of of the space. And we're just lucky it's still here. We want to see it continue on for another hundred years and really be appreciated."

The libary's archives include rare first editions of the books Moby Dick and Alice in Wonderland, more than 300 maps of Houston and Texas and 150,000 architectural drawings. Planners are asking for the public's input on the project and have created an on-line survey.

"We're not the only ones sitting here making these decisions. We'd like to feel like we've consulted with as many people as we can so we have come up with a survey of 14 questions, it's on our website, www.ideson.org, and we would love to have people link into that and give us their opinion of some ideas. There me be some really great ideas out there that we haven't thought of yet."

There's a link to that website on our website. You can also see pictures of the Ideson Libary, located across the street from City Hall, at KUHF.org.

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