Summertime is traditionally the time for both kicking back/relaxing and getting around to things that you somehow don’t get around to the rest of the year. There is nothing about my current life circumstances that require it to be summertime for me to focus on either of those things, but still. It’s kind of like taking on healthy lifestyle changes as New Year’s Resolutions or giving up bad habits as part of the Lenten ritual. There’s no reason any of those things should be tied to a calendar, and I am equally unsuccessful in sticking with any plans motivated by those arbitrary dates. But the calendar is my wake up call to at least TRY.
I have a good friend in the Public Education business, so summertime does become our chance to see each other more often. We’ve had a few exploring Houston outings this summer, all of which have been derailed by poor navigation and/or information gathering on our part, and all of which have turned out unexpectedly delightful.
Last week found us at the Julia Ideson Building in downtown Houston. I won’t go into the sordid details of the non-existence of the exhibit that we had gone to see, the multiple elevator mishaps, or other missteps that kept us laughing at each other. I WILL go into some of the details of this amazing building, however.
The Ideson building opened in 1926 as the main building of the Houston Library. It became a research library in 1978 after the new Central Library was built next door in 1976. In 2011, the building reopened after an extensive remodel and restoration. We just wandered around on our own, marveling and enjoying ourselves and only happened upon the self-guided tour info on our way out.
The ground floor contains the Texas Room. This is the home to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and where you can access its archives. I was fascinated by a display of photographs in cases down one of the hallways. There were some old panoramas of Houston (typically from the 20s and 30s) coupled with the same scene in 1983. I moved to Houston in 1983, and to see the changes from then to now was as interesting as the earlier differences. There was a 1983 photo of the plaza between the Ideson Building and the Central Library…taken during a KKK rally. I am pretty sure that I was unaware of KKK rallies happening in Houston as I was making plans to move down here. I was also pretty naive.
The first floor is gorgeous; beautiful woodwork, several stunning murals, an auditorium which seems like the perfect place to attend some historical lecture. Fortunately, we were directed upstairs to the second floor to the exhibit hall. The current exhibit was aboriginal artwork, not the circus posters that had prompted the outing, and it was interesting enough, but man-oh-man I fell in love with that second floor. The central part of the second floor is the Tudor Gallery which originally housed the library circulation desk and card files. There are four murals commissioned by the Federal Arts Project of the WPA. They each depict famous historical homes with a special focus on local flora. There are at least 4 other WPA murals in the building, but these four were my favorites. Off the Tudor gallery is this reading room:
That’s right. Houston, which is known for not preserving anything, has this gorgeous Reading Room with many original furnishings, a bookcase from the early 1900 Houston Lyceum, and (mostly locked) cases of old and rare books. If I worked downtown I think many a lunch hour would be spent in some quality reading time in this room. There’s even an outdoor reading porch.
In the picture above you can see the beautiful tile floor that runs throughout much of the building. I love how it looks like it is woven. But when you visit, make sure you look up, too.
It’s even in focus when you look at it in person.
It’s a lovely building and well worth a visit. Make sure you go into the Texas Room and pick up the self-guided tour paper at the start of your visit. You will learn a lot about the history of the Houston Public Library system and well as many architectural facts about the building and it’s restoration. And if you happen to see an exhibit about the circus in Houston, let me know.