Michigan League/Lydia Mendelssohn Theater

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Soon after the Michigan Union was completed, the Women's League of the University undertook to secure the funds necessary for the erection of a women's building. In February, 1921, Mrs. W. D. Henderson, secretary of the Alumnae Council of the Alumni Association, requested approval for a million-dollar campaign to raise funds for a women's building. Of the amount secured by 1927, it was planned to use $600,000 for construction, $150,000 for furnishings, and $250,000 as an endowment.

The Regents in 1921 agreed to furnish the site if the alumnae could raise $500,000 or more to construct and endow the building. In 1927, the sum of $350,000 was appropriated by the legislature for the purchase of a site.

The first large gift was made by Robert Lamont ('96), of Chicago, for the establishment of a memorial to the League's first president, Mrs. Ethel Hussey. A gift of $50,000 from Gordon Mendelssohn, of Birmingham, provided the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, a memorial to Mr. Mendelssohn's mother. The New York state alumnae contributed $15,000. Gifts were made by alumnae from all parts of the world. Chinese women alumnae in Tientsin sent antique tapestries made from a royal Manchu dynasty robe. Oriental rugs, vases, silver services, pianos, and many other furnishings were donated by alumnae.

At the December meeting of the Regents in 1921, the location of the League had been fixed as the block bounded by North University and Washington streets, covering the area between the Mall and Fletcher (Twelfth) Street. The final cost of this site was $332,105.23. In May, 1927, Mrs. Henderson informed the Regents that the million-dollar fund would be completed by June and that work on the building could be begun. The breaking-ground ceremonies took place on Saturday, June 18, 1927, with Dr. Eliza Mosher, the first Dean of Women, turning the first shovelful of earth. On May 4, 1929, the building was formally opened. Dedication ceremonies were held on June 14, 1929, in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater.

The architects for the Michigan League were Pond and Pond, Martin and Lloyd, the same firm of architects which had designed the Union; Lovering and Longbotham were responsible for the construction.

The Michigan League Building gives the impression of being a low, somewhat rambling structure; in reality it rises five floors above street level and is compactly built. It is constructed of soft red brick with white stone trim, and the many details, such as dormer and casement windows, alcoves, and balconies, lend variety to the general design without overembellishing it. The building is divided into three parts: the central section, containing the tower, the lounges, main concourse, offices, kitchens, and, on the fourth floor, bedrooms; the wing bordering North University Avenue, which includes the dining rooms, the ballroom, and a meeting room; and the northern wing, devoted almost entirely to the theater, checkrooms, workrooms for making costumes and scenery, and the linen supply closet. The northern and southern wings partly enclose a court on the east side of the building, forming a charming garden bounded on the street side by a high brick wall.

Source: The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey; Walter A. Donnelly, Wilfred B. Shaw, and Ruth W. Gjelsness, editors; Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 1958.