- September 18, 2013

Presidential History at the LBJ Library


I always get a little giddy when I get to visit the University of Texas campus. “Enjoy it, college students!” I yell as I wave my cane.

This time I was there to visit the LBJ Library and Museum, which sits on a 30 acre site on the east edge of campus, at 2313 Red River St. Parking for guests is free in Lot 38, which is located off Red River and flanked by flags with LBJ Library and Museum on them. The adjacent lots on either side are permit parking only. (See below for admission information.)

One of thirteen Presidential Libraries in the US, the 10-story building holds 45 million pages of historical documents, 650,000 photos, and 5,000 hours of recordings from President Johnson’s political career. Only floors 3 (entry level), 4, and 10 are open to the public for exhibits. I’m a closet presidential history nerd, so this was a very enjoyable outing for me, and was great quality time with my 3-year-old.

The monolithic building is truly a site to behold with its massive travertine exterior. The expansive mezzanine around the entire building is perfect for overlooking parts of campus and even downtown. The museum underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2012, and reopened in December of that same year.

The entrance to the library and museum is on the 3rd floor, where we were greeted by LBJ’s Presidential Limousine.  It’s funny to think that there was the technology for a TV, telephone, and a special system for communicating with the Secret Service back in the late 60s. From there, lovely volunteers greeted us with information about the building and directed us to a good starting point: a small theater where an 11 minute video about the life of President Johnson plays on a loop.

Next it was on to a visual timeline of the Life and Times of LBJ, heading counter clockwise around the Great Hall. We learned all about LBJ from his birth in 1908 up to when my little companion got restless, around 1945. But for the non 3-year-old crowd, the timeline is engaging and extremely visually interesting.We headed upstairs to the 4th floor, where we got a marvelous view of the 4-story, glass-encased archives collection and the larger than life photo engraved mural by artist Naomi Savage.

JFK and LBJ, only one large panel of the photoengraved mural.

The 4th floor also housed the Social Justice Gallery, which features graphics of legislation passed by LBJ, such as civil rights, consumer protection, and public broadcasting, and why they were needed. The gallery also displays items from various time periods throughout LBJ’s political career.Also on the 4th floor is the Legacy Gallery, where you can read about LBJ’s impact on the arts, national parks, and more, and the Sculpture Garden, which to my relief was more of a sculpture balcony than a garden. I feared if we headed outside, my 3-year-old would never come back in. It is, however, a lovely space to sit and enjoy some fresh air.

The 10th floor exhibit was probably my favorite part of the museum. The First Family in the White House features a lot of the day to day of life in the White House with small, but engaging and interesting exhibits. Guests can take a peek at a 7/8ths replica of the Oval Office, view some of Lady Bird Johnson’s elegant clothing, and watch a film about life in the White House. There was even a replica of Lady Bird’s own swanky office space in the White House, where she worked on such projects as the Town Lake Hike & Bike Trail (now the Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail) and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, both here in Austin.

From there, it was time to go, but there are a few things at the LBJ Library and Museum that you do NOT want to miss:

  • News to History: Photojournalism and the Presidency – This exhibit on display through October 1, 2013, highlights images from photojournalists of thirteen administrations, from FDR to Obama. It’s a fascinating look into history through moments that have been forever captured in time.
  • First Ladies Collection of dolls by Madame Alexander – This collection of 38 dolls fashioned to look like first ladies from Martha Washington to Pat Nixon will be on display through November 24, 2013.
  • Dr. Seuss artwork from The Lorax – Up on the 10th floor in the small exhibit “The White House Years,” there’s a small, almost hidden drawing from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, along with a funny story of how it came to be at the LBJ Library. The display cases are to the right of the elevators.
  • The bathrooms – Okay, so the bathrooms aren’t anything special, but it’s what’s outside the bathrooms that you don’t want to miss! Located down a flight of stairs on the 2nd floor, in a small gallery space, hang several framed political cartoons that were drawn either about LBJ or specifically for him. Several of them had personal notes at the bottom, stating they were a gift to him from the cartoonist. Definitely made the 3-year-old’s potty trip worth it.

Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $3 for children ages 13 – 17. Ages 12 and under are free. The museum is also free on the following days:

  • Martin Luther King Day
  • President’s Day
  • Explore UT
  • Memorial Day
  • 4th of July
  • LBJ’s birthday (August 27)
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Austin Museum Day

LBJ Library and Museum
2313 Red River St
Austin, TX 78705

Leigh Ann Torres is a freelance writer and blogger living in Austin with her husband and three girls. She’s a pretty good cook, a mediocre photographer, and a horrible housekeeper. She writes about the good, the bad, and the ridiculous of life with twins plus one at Genie in a Blog.