Early efforts by Houston's Lyceum, local women's organizations and Andrew Carnegie's national foundation led to the 1904 Houston Lyceum and Carnegie Library Building. Julia Bedford Ideson, hired in 1903, was the city's first librarian. Under her direction, the library's collection and services expanded until, by 1920, the 1904 building was too small. The city continued to use the building, known by the 1920s as the Houston Public Library, until 1926, when the new library building opened at this site.Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 2003
Ideson and the library building committee worked throughout the 1920s to formulate a plan and program for the new structure, visiting other U.S. cities and accepting proposals from several noted architects. They chose Ralph Adams Cram and his Boston firm, Cram and Ferguson, for the project. Cram worked with local architects William Ward Watkin and Louis A. Glover, coordinating also with the city's architect, W.A. Dowdy. The Southwestern Construction Company served as the builder.
Noted for his design work throughout the Northeast, Cram chose the Spanish Renaissance Revival style for Houston's library. Details include tile roof, arched openings, cast stone window surrounds, finials lining the parapet wall, and ornate metalwork. The L-shaped building's materials are primarily brick, cast stone and limestone.
After more than 40 years as Houston's librarian, Ideson died in 1945. The city renamed the library six years later to honor her contributions to Houston's library program, as well as her involvement in numerous civic groups and professional associations.
Although the city's library facilities and services have continued to expand since the Ideson Building's construction in 1926, the structure continues to serve as a library and local landmark.