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Proposed facility next step in union history

Demolition of union, 1964

By Brooke Nottingham, student assistant, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

Way before there were plans for a LEED-certified, state-of-the-art structure, and before there was live music and poster sales beneath the fragrant archway of Einstein Bros. and Chik-Fil-A, the University Union was a squat building nestled on a patch of land.

This was in 1949, and the campus then had a football stadium where Willis Library now stands, and a fish pond and gazebo instead of the General Academic Building. The fish pond was eventually filled in, but the gazebo was transplanted to its current home in front of the Language Building.

Planning for UNT’s first student union began in 1930, but the building wasn’t completed until 1949, when it was dedicated to alumni and war veterans. The current union opened in 1966 expanded in 1976, and includes a plaque in honor of alumni who are World War I, World War II and Viet Nam veterans.

The union, built to serve 15,000 students and now serving almost 36,000, will be replaced by a new facility if a student vote approves a fee.

Students will vote April 2-6. Student approval will assess a fee no greater than $115 per semester beginning in 2014 to fund union construction. The new union is scheduled to open in 2015.

Here's how students, faculty and staff have enjoyed the union in decades past.


Voter registration, University Union, circa 1970sIn the ‘50s, the union had spaces like the Trading Room and the Howdy Room, which housed weekly dances and the building’s first televisions. Students crowded around these TVs to watch football games and news of the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1.

Outside, there was a concrete slab - known as “The Slab,” but officially titled the University Building Terrace - where students gathered for dances and roller skating.


To make room for a new three-story, $1 million union, The Slab was unceremoniously destroyed in May of 1964. A year later, the original union was demolished, above.

The new union was open and functioning by 1966. To lessen congestion from the wildly popular snack bar, the union opened a cafeteria that served dorm-style meals. The union also housed Student Services and Registration.


Mardi Gras party, University Union, 1984The union building that was finished just 10 years previously was due for a major facelift. The $7 million renovation was funded by bonds and a student fee.

During construction, various wings of the union were closed. Services were scaled back and offered in the Temporary Union Building, known as the TUB, in Crumley Hall.

An article in the 1974 yearbook, The Yucca, read, “Imagine going to the Union Building after a long, exhausting day and ordering a cold beer. Think how odd it will seem to walk up to any door in the UB and find that it will actually open. Once inside, you will find spacious, comfortable lounges and eating places instead of a mob of students.”

A few of those dreams did come true. The new structure had a basement, three floors, and a central sky lighted mall loaded with a fountain and a $20,000 sculpture, plus a 500-seat auditorium.

There was a cafeteria and snack bar kept cozy by a fireplace. The original plan called for a tavern and a dessert island, but both were axed. The cold beer didn’t materialize, either.


Jazz ensemble, University Union, 2002In spring 1984, Union Day had a Mardi Gras theme. Students and staff transformed the One O'Clock Lounge into the festive streets of New Orleans with colorful balloons, cake and live music. 

This year's union birthday party, Unionfest, will be March 14. There will be music and food, plus a display showing plans for the new union.


As the campus population grew, the union seemed to be shrinking. A building that was meant for 15,000 students was cramming in more than 20,000 students each day.

In 1993, a Union Expansion Committee was formed. In the mean time, students continued to have fun with an annual interactive performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and a Murder Mystery Dinner.


The University Union Master Plan Project began in 2011, with a committee comprised of students, faculty and staff.

The UNT System Board of Regents approved funds for Perkins+Will, the architecture and engineering firm that designed the Business Leadership Building and Life Sciences Complex, to make recommendations. Research included focus groups, student town halls and visits to other, recently completed unions, including Texas A&M.

The new union, designed as part of the 2005 campus master plan, will be in the current location. Scoular and Stovall halls are expected to be demolished to allow the new, larger union facility.


(Historical photos courtesy of the UNT Libraries' Portal to Texas History, which includes UNT yearbooks. From top, union demolition, 1964; voter registration circa 1970s; Mardi Gras Union Day, 1984; concert in the One O'Clock Lounge, 2002; below, sketch of proposed new union by Perkins+Will.)

University Union, proposed 2012, Perkins+Will architects


Posted on: Thu 05 April 2012

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