The original Union clubhouse was the remodeled residence of Judge Thomas M. Cooley, long a member of the University’s law faculty. The house was a spacious, rambling fieldstone structure, with pointed gables. It stood on State Street at the end of South University Avenue. Professor Emil Lorch of the Department of Architecture made the necessary alterations.
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. On the second floor was a billiard room, a reading room, a room for the directors, and an apartment for the steward. This building served the students for almost nine years.
The growth of the student body and the increasing importance of the Union made an expansion of its faculties imperative. The Union Clubhouse was torn down in 1916 to make way for the new Michigan Union.
Two adjacent lots were acquired; one of these houses was the home of the architects of the new Union, Allen B. '80, and Irving K. Pond '78e, of Chicago. The Pond house was move to the rear of the lot, 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.
Cooley Home (left) Pond Home (right) The New Union was to be built between the two arrows
Plans for the Union as prepared by Irving K. Pond ‘78e, were on a scale unknown for club houses in American colleges and universities. 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.
Architect’s Sketch of the new Michigan Union
Construction estimates 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. 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.
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.
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 was 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, was served with chemically purified water.
The main entrance, facing east under the great square tower, was approached by a broad terraced walk.
The Michigan Union was a four-story building with a basement and subbasement. The subbasement housed the mechanical equipment for heating, lighting, and ventilating the building, and a complete refrigeration system. On the floor above, in the basement proper, were the locker rooms and the entrance to the swimming pool. This floor also housed 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 were kitchens and ample storage space and shops.
On the first floor, between two great comfortably furnished lounges, was a wide hall leading to the main desk; a corridor to the left led 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 opened into the main dining room. The kitchens were at the rear. The main dining room, which accommodated more than 200 persons, had oak-paneled wainscoting and six pillars of gay-colored terra cotta set at intervals around the room. The floor was of tile in a basket weave design.
Additional dining space was 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.
On the second floor the front part of the building to the right was occupied by the Pendleton Library, while a great billiard room with twenty-two tables took up the space on the left.
A two story ballroom or assembly hall was at the end of the corridor extending to the rear from the main second floor hall. This room accommodated 1,500 persons at a meeting, 600 diners, or 350 couples at a dance. Adjacent were three private dining rooms with movable walls which could be rolled back to connect the rooms with the ballroom. Adjoining the dining rooms was 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 were devoted to dining rooms and office and committee rooms for student organizations. These meeting rooms were furnished with large tables and matching chairs.
The fourth floor was devoted almost wholly to guest bedrooms, with one large lounging room where returning alumni could gather to chat. A stairway led to the roof of the tower which afforded a fine vantage point for viewing the campus and city.
Women were not allowed to enter the front door of the Union.
“Perhaps it would be a safe generalization to assume that every student on the campus has at one time or another wondered, whence came the tradition that women must not, and shall not, enter the front door of the Union. From our own private sources the news that it was more or less due to the 1918 president of the now defunct Student Council, Steven S. Attwood. However, when asked to corroborate this fact, the genial, yet reticent, Mr. Attwood professed that memory was at best an uncertain thing and declined to commit himself. We do not think that he will mind being “exposed”, for in fact it obligates us men to the extent of a debt of gratitude.” (Michigan Technic, 10/1931)
The side entrance to the building on the north, formerly known as the “ladies’” entrance, afforded 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.
With the exception of the tower rooms, the upper floors of the Union were reached either by elevator or by stairs; one of the tower rooms was occupied by Michigamua, the senior student society which first worked for a Union building.
Two new wings to the south were completed in 1936 and 1938. The first provided quarters for the University Club as well as fifty-four additional rooms for guests. This wing ran parallel to the main structure, while the other, with frontage on Madison Street, housed the International Center and afforded eighty additional guest rooms.
A new $2,900,000 addition, begun in 1954-55, provided additional cafeteria space, dining rooms, music rooms, and a student workshop.
Behind the Union, bordering on Madison and Thompson streets were the residence halls of West Quadrangle, which were connected with the basement and first floor of the Union by means of corridors.
Wilfred B. Shaw (The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey, p. 1684)