Michigan Union

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The Michigan Union Building is the successor to an earlier Union clubhouse, a remodeled residence built originally by Judge Thomas M. Cooley, long a member of the University's law faculty. This spacious old residence, a rambling fieldstone structure, with pointed gables, stood on State Street at the end of South University Avenue, an ideal site for such a building as the projected Michigan Union. The necessary alterations were made by Professor Emil Lorch, of the Department of Architecture, and the building proved reasonably well adapted to the early needs of the Union.

The first Union had a large dining room on the first floor, a smaller one at the side, a large lounge, a game room, and a kitchen. The second floor housed the billiard room, a reading room, a room for the directors, and an apartment for the steward. The building, which was opened for the use of the students in November, 1907, served the needs of the University for almost nine years.

The growth of the student body and the increasing importance of the Union made an expansion of its facilities imperative, and early in 1916, the first building was torn down to make way for a new Michigan Union. Two adjacent lots, upon which dwellings were then standing, were acquired; one of these houses was the old home of the architects of the new Union, Allen B. and Irving K. Pond, of Chicago. This was moved to the rear, and, with a rough frame building which had been erected in 1912 for student social affairs and dances, served as temporary headquarters while the new building was in the course of construction.

Plans for the Union as prepared by Irving K. Pond ('78e) were on a scale heretofore unknown for club houses in American colleges and universities. These called for a building some 250 feet long and approximately 200 feet wide, dominated by a massive tower. It had long been recognized by all who were interested in the project that only a building of this size would be adequate for such a large student body. Within the building, facilities were provided on a correspondingly large scale, including ample lobby room on the first floor, a large number of dining rooms of various sizes with well-equipped kitchens, and about sixty sleeping rooms for alumni on the upper floors.

Estimates speedily grew from $300,000 to $1,000,000, of which $100,000 was set aside for furnishings and $250,000 as an endowment. By 1916 the building committee for the Union had sufficient funds in hand to proceed with construction, and at commencement of that year President Hutchins turned the first shovelful of earth. Owing to wartime difficulties, however, the building was not ready for use by the students until 1919, although, with the aid of a loan of $260,000 from the Michigan War Preparedness Board, it had been sufficiently completed to be used as a barracks for the Students' Army Training Corps; during this emergency it served as a dormitory for 800 men and as a mess hall for some 4,000.

Sufficient funds were finally raised through further contributions, memberships, and a loan, secured by subscriptions, to complete the building. The University Buildings and Grounds Department as contractors were responsible for its construction. The gross floor area before subsequent additions was 166,370 square feet.

On March 26, 1920, the Union and its grounds were deeded to the University, at which time the cost of the building was stated as "upwards of $1,150,000," with subscriptions aggregating a little more than that amount. The Regents, in accepting the deed, however, did not bind the University to assume any further debts for the Union.

Two parts of the Union were left unfinished, the swimming pool and the library on the second floor. An extensive campaign among students and alumni eventually secured the $40,000 sufficient to finish the pool, which measures 30 by 75 feet and is situated on the south side of the basement, with a gallery entrance from the first floor corridor. The pool, one of the most beautiful in the country, is served with chemically purified water.

In June, 1923, Mrs. Edward W. Pendleton, of Detroit, gave $21,500 for the completion of the library as a memorial to her husband ('72), and in 1925, the new room, paneled in oak, was ready for student and alumni readers. Portraits of President Angell and President Hutchins, as well as one of Mr. Pendleton, for whom the library was named, were hung on the walls. Mrs. Pendleton also made the University a gift of Mr. Pendleton's library and an additional $1,000 with which to buy books.

The Michigan Union is a four-story building with a basement and subbasement. It extends for a distance of 168 feet along South State Street and has a maximum depth of 230 feet. The main entrance, facing east under the great square tower, is approached by a broad terraced walk. Cut in stone above the door are two figures representing the student and the athlete. On the first floor, between two great comfortably furnished lounges, is a wide hall leading to the main desk; a corridor to the left leads to the offices of the manager of the building and to the swimming pool gallery. Beyond the desk to the right a corridor with cloakroom and two small dining rooms on the left opens into the main dining room. The kitchens are at the rear. The main dining room, which accommodates more than 200 persons, has oak-paneled wainscoting and six pillars of gay-colored terra cotta set at intervals around the room. The floor is of tile in a basket weave design. Additional dining space is afforded by the adjoining terrace, which was at first left open, but later was enclosed to form a long, well-lighted room with windows running its entire length.

In 1926 a smaller dining room on the first floor was made possible through a gift of $5,000 by Charles M. Crowfoot. Another dining room of the same size was designated as a Founders' Room, with portraits of all who had been instrumental in carrying out the original plans for the Union incorporated in the paneling. These two small dining rooms are in constant use for meetings of faculty groups and organizations.

The side entrance to the building on the north, formerly known as the "ladies'" entrance, affords access to the lobbies, the dining rooms, and the ballroom on the second floor. A dining room on this side, originally reserved as a ladies' dining room, was later remodeled for general use and named in honor of Professor Henry Anderson, long an officer of the Union.

The subbasement houses the mechanical equipment for heating, lighting, and ventilating the building, and a complete refrigeration system. On the floor above, in the basement proper, are the locker rooms and the entrance to the swimming pool. On this floor also are the business and record offices of the Union, a large barber shop, and the Tap-Room, a completely equipped cafeteria with colorful furniture and tables. Bowling alleys, first installed in the basement, were later moved to a new addition to make way for a needed expansion of the Tap-Room. At the rear are kitchens and ample storage space and shops.

With the exception of the tower rooms, the upper floors of the Union are reached either by elevator or by stairs; one of the tower rooms is occupied by Michigamua, the senior student society which first worked for a Union building. On the second floor the front part of the building to the right is occupied by the Pendleton Library, while a great billiard room with twenty-two tables takes up the space on the left.

A beautiful ballroom or assembly hall, 50 feet wide, more than 100 feet long, and two stories high, is at the end of the corridor extending to the rear from the main second floor hall. This room will accommodate 1,500 persons at a meeting, 600 diners, or 350 couples at a dance. Adjacent are three private dining rooms with movable walls which may be rolled back to connect the rooms with the ballroom. Adjoining the dining rooms is a terrace similar to that on the first floor.

That part of the third floor not occupied by the upper parts of the ballroom and the reading room is devoted to dining rooms and office and committee rooms for student organizations. These meeting rooms are furnished with large tables and matching chairs.

The fourth floor is devoted almost wholly to guest bedrooms, with one large lounging room where returning alumni may gather to chat. A stairway leads to the roof of the tower which affords a fine vantage point for viewing the campus and city.

Within a few years after the building was completed more office and tap-room space became necessary, and in the spring of 1930 an additional suite of offices, which provided 4,972 more feet of floor space, was added on the south to provide for the general manager as well as for the student officers of the Union, who had previously had their offices on the third floor.

Two new wings to the south were completed in 1936 and 1938. The first, providing quarters for the University Club as well as fifty-four additional rooms for guests, afforded more than 90,000 more square feet of available space. This wing runs parallel to the main structure, while the other, with frontage on Madison Street, houses the International Center and affords eighty additional guest rooms. The first unit measures 142 by 145 feet, while the other to the south is 50 by 160 feet.

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.