Saturday's gathering at the Houston Public Library's Julia Ideson Building was billed as a "Hard Hat Tea," but none of the prominent attendees, including Barbara Bush, Andrea White and Mayor Annise Parker, donned protective gear to get the first glimpse of the sparkling new archival wing of the historic building. Hard hat or no, everyone raved about the meticulous attention to detail in the new building that closely follows the original plans of architect Ralph Adams Cram.
In a city that doesn't always revere its history, the library building stands out as a glorious representation of Houston's past. The original building, designed in a Spanish Renaissance style, opened in 1926 and served as the main library until 1976. It has been home to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and an archive of rare books, maps and photographs of Houston.
The 1929 stock market crash curtailed Cram's plans for an adjoining building. Former Mayor Bill White recruited Phoebe Tudor to spearhead a $33 million fundraising drive to renovate the old building and add an annex. (Nearly $30 million has been raised.) Architect Barry Moore kept to the spirit of Cram's plans in designing the addition, which doubles storage space with three floors of climate-controlled shelving. The addition also includes a delightful park that can be used for receptions.
When the annex officially opens in March, the main building will be closed for an 18-month renovation to refurbish ornate rooms that will be used for such disparate activities as greeting foreign dignitaries and children's book readings.
"When it opens it will have new life and a lot more activity," Tudor said.
Parker came to the event from the dentist where she had had a cavity filled. One side of her face was swollen, but she appeared so taken with the project that she and her partner, Kathy Hubbard, stayed for more than an hour as they toured the new annex.
"This is a repository for much of Houston's history," Parker told guests. "I have researched my own historic home in the Texas Room here and I hope you will do that, too."
Also on hand: Lillie Robertson, who hosted the tea, Ginny Mithoff, Minnette Boesel, Renu Khator, Sissy Farenthold and Susan Bischoff.