Historic Library Ready For Second Life

One of Houston's most historic libraries is about to get a major face-lift, a public-private partnership that will restore the home of one of the largest genealogical research centers in the country. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The cornerstone of the Clayton Library complex in the museum district is a three story, red brick home along Caroline street that was built in 1917. It was the former residence of William Clayton, a local businessman and statesman who helped shape the Marshall Plan in 1947. A major renovation of the home, a guest house and a carriage house will begin within several weeks. This is Clayton Library Friends president Nick Sorenson.

Clayton Library"We haven't been able to use the two smaller buildings for a number of years, but we've continued to use the large building, but it finally got to the point where the disrepair was a problem. This project is about renovating all three of the historic buildings and bring them up to become a current working library again at the same time preserving the historical character of the buildings."

The Clayton Library Friends have raised $5.6 million for the restoration, which is expected to take a year to complete. Sorenson says it's especially important to preserve a building that itself preserves history.

"This particular facility, which is the genealogical arm of the Houston Public Library, is the place where we keep all of the records that relate to Houston and the south, the southwest and the early people that sort of came to this part of the country. This is where we preserve our history and our identity."

Clayton LibraryA newer companion building to the Clayton House was built about 20 years ago and holds most of the genealogical material, although much of that material will be moved back into the home once the renovation is complete. Houston Library System Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson says the project will turn the Clayton House back into a fully functional library.

"With the property restored, we are able to hold events and special meetings where the library itself doesn't have meeting areas. This facility will provide opportunities for lectures and an opportunity to bring history alive."

The city of Houston will oversee the construction project and will also provide about $1 million worth of furnishings and fixtures for the three building complex. This is Building Services director Issa Dadoush.

"It is very important that we hold onto our past. If we don't then we have lost a lot of information. Bringing this facility back and holding its architectural integrity and historical values, it's very important."

The Clayton Center for Genealogical Research is the third largest such facility in the nation. You can see pictures of the home on our website, KUHF.org.

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