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Feldman, Jim / The buildings of the University of Wisconsin

Memorial Union,   pp. 202-210

Page 202

V                                                1  Fig. 1. The Memo-
%  rial Union from
Langdon Street, in
/                1930. The theatre
wing was later built
at the left of the
i : i                              "  . picture. Just visible
at the extreme right
i ::?:of the picture is the
old YMCA, demol-
ished in 1955.
The Memorial Union was built in 1926 to provide a "living room for the campus".
The functions of a student union had been previously housed in the old YMCA build-
ing and other temporary spaces. The union was largely financed by private dona-
tions. The theatre wing to the west was added in 1938. The original design was by
architect Arthur Peabody.
he usual starting point for the story of the Wisconsin Union is the inaugural address of
Charles Van Hise in 1903. While it is true that Van Hise called for a union after the style of
Oxford and Cambridge, and that he periodically asked the legislature for funds to build a
union, nothing of a definite nature was specified in this or any other speech, and except for the land
along Langdon Street and a $375,000 appropriation from the 1913 legislature that was promptly
cancelled by the 1915 body, nothing was forthcoming from the state. It is thus hard to see Van Hise's
speech as anything but an early expression of hope for the project that would later be accomplished
by others, by which time Van Hise was dead.
Another version of the origin of the idea of the Wisconsin Union appears in a letter written by
Willard Stephenson to Ted Stempel, two men who had been involved in the original union plan. As
Stephenson recalls it, in the fall of 1907 "professor Frank C. Sharp, stopped [George] Hill and me ...
and told us that the 'Y' was about to lose its building on a mortgage foreclosure and he asked us if we

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