Before it was a building, the Michigan Union was a student group formed in 1904 as an all-inclusive organization with the goal of bringing unity to campus. Its first meeting drew more than 1,100 students. After that, the founders realized a desire to have a home for the organization. It wasn't until 1907 that they bought the Cooley home, the former house of Judge Thomas M. Cooley, who was also a Law school professor at U-M. In order to adapt the house to its new purpose, architecture department professor Emil Lorch made a few changes. The first floor housed two dining rooms, a lounge, game room, and a kitchen. The second floor is where one could find the billiard room, reading room, a director's room, and the steward's apartment.
The Union soon outgrew the Cooley home, and in 1910, they hired the architect brothers Irving Kane Pond and Allen Bartlit Pond to design a new building. The Cooley house was demolished in 1916 to make way for the new b building. The construction was disrupted by the American entry into World War I, and the unfinished building was repurposed as a Student's Army Training Corps barracks and mess hall. Following the end of the First World War, the building's interior was finally finished, and it officially opened in 1919.
The original Union building included a variety of facilities: a basement bowling alley, a groundfloor barbershop and cafe, and various "lounges, reading rooms, committee rooms, dining rooms, a billiard and games room, an assembly room, and accommodations for returning alumni." A swimming pool, planned for the building since its design, finally opened in 1925 after sufficient funds were collected to construct it.
The Michigan Union originally was organized as a club with yearly dues of $2.50; the club was run by a board of directors with representation of students, faculty, and alumni. By 1918 the fee was increased to $5, and all male students automatically became Union Members.
Today. the Michigan Union houses restaurants, student organization office space, conference rooms, study areas, and other student resources. The Union is also an election precinct in state elections.
At the front steps of the Union, just above the main entrance, two statues stand on the left and the right. On the left is the athlete, facing towards south campus, home of the athletic fields and Michigan Stadium. To the right is the scholar, looking towards Central and North Campus, home of the student life of the University of Michigan.
In a speech delivered on the steps of the Michigan Union October 14, 1960 at 2:00 a.m., presidential candidate John F. Kennedy announced his Peace Corps proposal. A plaque at the steps now commemorates the event.
Cover image By Vincent Arel - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6984853. Information courtesy of Wikipedia.