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History of the Student Union Building

The following is an exerpt from the paper " The Beginning of Student Unions in American Higher Education with Special Emphasis on the Student Union Building at Texas Tech University" by Autumn Arthur, Cate Goodwill, Farha Habeeb, and Sonia Moore. Used with permission.

The Student Union Building at Texas Tech University
In a 1928 Faculty Committee meeting Allen, then an English professor, was recorded as mentioning that a student union building would highly benefit the students.  Dean Allen recounted in an interview years later that he did not remember making that suggestion, but he played a major role in the establishment of the first Student Union Building at Texas Tech University (Allen, 1983). 


Early Contributions

            It is unclear when the initial Student Union Building Fund was established, but several senior classes between 1930 and 1952 donated money in the form of cash or war bonds to the fund (Andrews, 1956).  A 1946 Tech Tips quotes that there was $3,750 in War Bonds set aside for the “post-war construction of a Student Union Building” (Andrews, 1956, p. 11).  The booklet also mentioned plans for the Student Union Building including meeting rooms, places to eat, the campus bookstore, ballrooms, an auditorium, and places to mingle and relax (Andrews, 1956).  The Association of Women Students published Tech Tips each year for many years and both the 1946-47 edition and the 1947-48 editions both mentioned the building fund and encouraged all students to donate (Tech Tips, 1946; 1947).


Recreation Hall

            During World War II, Texas Tech allowed several military barrack-type buildings to be set up on campus by the government for Texas Tech’s ROTC program.  In 1947, the government offered Texas Tech the opportunity to take over the buildings and Allen, then Dean of Student Life, requested two buildings be purchased and used as a sort of student center.  Dean Allen knew that it would take some work to combine the two buildings together so he contacted 25 of his closest Lubbock friends and asked for a $1,000 donation from each.  In Cindy Martin’s interview with Dean Allen in 1983, the retired dean recalled using the discarded wood flooring from Doak Hall as the dance floor in the new building.  Dean Allen also said that when a dust storm blew through town, there was a layer of dirt on everything inside the Recreation Hall.  Similar things happened when it rained; the roof leaked!  Ruth Horn Andrews (1956) reported that Dunlap’s Department Store in Lubbock was not only one of Dean Allen’s $1,000 donors, but it also agreed to sell the furnishings for the building at wholesale cost.  With a little creative spending and generous Lubbock residents, the Recreation Hall was opened in 1947 (Andrews, 1956).
            The Recreation Hall was used daily by students.  In the beginning there was a local retailer selling food on one end of the building but as Dean Allen recalled, it was too expensive for the students.  The 1953 La Ventana called this area the Green Room and said it was the meeting place for all coffee drinkers. The University also sponsored weekend dances and picture shows for students.  Students played bridge, ping-pong or other table games in between classes (Goodyear, 1953).  A chorale was started for students who enjoyed singing and they held regular concerts in the Recreation Hall.  Dean Allen recounted that at the time there was not a lot of safe hangouts for students near the campus, so the Recreation Hall provided a good place for playing games or relaxing after class.  He also stated that this was the reason he continued to advocate for a permanent student center (Allen, 1983).


Planning the Tech Student Union

            Before the Recreation Hall opened, students used the bookstore as a hangout and a place to grab lunch or snacks at the bookstore’s lunch counter.  Soon after the Recreation Hall opened, the bookstore was quiet.  Manager Conner Cole decided to put the $150,000 from the bookstore’s “general fund” towards the Student Union Building Fund.  When presented with the idea, President D.M. Wiggins and Dean Allen enthusiastically approved.  The College Infirmary also decided to make the sizable donation of $100,000 to the cause from a surplus in their accounts and the Ex-Students Association agreed to raise $25,000 (Andrews, 1956).
On October 15, 1949, the Board of Directors instructed the Building Committee to “proceed with plans for the construction of a Student Union Building at a cost not to exceed $500,000” (Board of Directors, 1949).  In December of that same year, the Board of Directors approved a bid from Blyth and Company in Chicago for the purchase of $250,000 in bonds.  The profits from the sale of the bonds would be added to the Student Union Building Fund (Board of Directors, 1949).  The Board approved the plans for the proposed Student Union Building on January 28, 1950 and hired Atcheson and Atkinson of Lubbock, both Texas Tech graduates, as the architects for the proposed building (Board of Directors, 1950 & Andrews, 1956, p. 259).  Bond sales, revenue from campus concession sales and the donations from the bookstore, infirmary, and ex-student association were added together to form the $500,000 needed to construct the Student Union Building.  Texas Tech University was proud that current and former students and campus departments raised all but $50,000 of the money for the building construction (Andrews, 1956).

Student Union Fee. 
In case the pledged revenues were ever insufficient, the Board of Directors also approved a student fee of four dollars to be imposed upon each Texas Tech University student for the use and availability of the building (Board of Directors, 1950).  In May of 1953, the Board was allowed by the government to impose the Student Union Fee of five dollars as a regular fee “for the operation, maintenance, and improvement of the building” (Andrews, 1956, p. 260).  The fee was charged each semester (Teeing Off, 1955).  Dean Allen explained that the students were in favor of the fee because they were happy about the Student Union Building and wanted to help make it better.  Several Teeing Off at Texas Tech editions explained the fee, its uses, and purposes, to new students and their parents (1955; 1962). 


The New Student Union Building

Texas Tech called upon Butts, a “pioneer in the field of student union design and construction” (Vanzant, 1993, p. 1), to help plan the building structure and features.  A swimming pool and bowling alley were two ideas recommended by Butts, but with a hefty price tag, both were cut from the plans (Vanzant, 1993).  On October 31, 1952, the cornerstone was laid for the Student Union Building and the two-story plus basement building was opened to students on March 10, 1953.  The building design kept with the Spanish Renaissance exterior of the other campus buildings and offered a ballroom, meeting rooms, campus organization headquarters, a game room, lounges, and food service.  Approximately 1,500 people attended the open house on April 12 (Andrews, 1956). 
Students used the building constantly and soon a Student Union Council comprised of five executive staff members, eight committees, and 250 student volunteers was created to coordinate all of the activities and programs in the Student Union Building.  Some of the events offered were concerts, movie showings, dances, bridge and other game tournaments, lectures, art exhibits, and a Tuesday night Quarterback Club reviewed the videos of athletic games of the previous weekend (Andrews, 1956; Teeing Off, 1955; & Harrison, 1954).  The Student Union Council provided an opportunity for students to “develop leadership qualities, social maturity, cultural background and personal character” (Sanders & Woody, 1962, p.35).  The December 1955 edition of Teeing Off at Texas Tech listed the Student Union Building as providing services such as check cashing, poster making, food catering, campus information, ticket sales, and a lost and found department.  The Student Union Building offered “the student body as a whole a complete schedule of events with valuable out-of-classroom information and education” (Sanders and Woody, 1962, p.35).  The Student Union Building held a Regional Unions Conference in 1955 with schools from five states in attendance (Hudson, 1950).  The Texas Tech Student Union Building has long been a member of Association of College Unions International (ACUI) and National Association for Campus Activities (NACA).  Through the Council and the subsequent programming boards that followed, the Student Union Building at Texas Tech became the community center, or living room, of the campus.

Name Changes.  While the official name was Student Union Building, students and campus publications called the building “Tech Union” up until the name changed to University Center in the 1970s, when it became “the UC” by all the union constituents.  Dean Allen commented on the 1970s name change by commenting that at that time “union” had other meanings that did not represent what the building was used for and therefore the building was renamed University Center (Allen, 1983).  No matter what the name on the outside of the building was, the popular phrase around campus was “I’ll meet you at the Union!” (Teeing Off, 1955).

End of the Recreation Hall.  After the opening of the Student Union Building in 1953, the Recreation Hall became home to the Campus Club, an organization of faculty and staff (Andrews, 1956).  With the expansion of the Student Union Building to include a Faculty Club, the Board of Directors approved the removal of the Recreation Hall in August of 1962 (Index, 1962).


Additions, Remodeling, and Reflections

Dean Allen remembered that administrators and students alike soon realized the new building was too small.  In 1955, up to 4,500 people passed through the Student Union Building on any given day (Teeing Off, 1955).  Plans quickly went into action for an addition and the university again consulted Butts for ideas.  Dean Allen also reported that his office staff held student focus groups to get suggestions of what the students would like to see added onto the Student Union Building.  The one million dollar annex was opened to students in the spring of 1962, including more office space, meeting rooms, and an expanded cafeteria with modern kitchen facilities (Sanders and Woody, 1962).  The August 1962 edition of Teeing Off at Texas Tech quoted that 6,000 people entered the building on a peak day.
The Student Union Building was expanded again in 1977 and renamed University Center (UC).  The UC had been enlarged so much that it joined the back of the music building. The addition included a courtyard area for lounges or informal receptions and Center Theatre, which, according to Dean Allen, served as a perfect alternative to the Municipal Auditorium.  The Municipal Auditorium was continuously booked and there was no other high-capacity theater like it in Lubbock.  The Center Theatre was renamed Allen Theatre in 1985 in honor of Dean Allen (“Allen Theatre”).  The theatre was and still is used year-round by various campus departments and student organizations.  Due to the continued growth of the campus population, the University Center was enlarged again in 2006 with a third floor and expanded basement area and was renamed Student Union Building.
Dean Allen expressed that the Student Union Building had always and should always have the same personality of Texas Tech and West Texas: open, friendly, out-going and hospitable.  He strongly believed that students needed to have a well-rounded development.  The programs and services of the Student Union Building were part of that development because the union was an “auxiliary educational source” (Allen, 1983).  When asked how he felt about the building and its’ programs’ progress since 1928, Allen said that when he looked out at the Student Union Building he always felt “a sense of fulfillment” and then jokingly, everything may not have happened if someone had not reminded him of his suggestion made in 1928 (Allen, 1983).    


Click here for the full paper including references.