History of the UC
Ground was broken in April 1954. In December of that year, with construction nearly complete, the Student Union Committee proposed the name ‘MSU Lodge’.
Dedication of the Lodge took place February 17 along with Charter Day celebrations for UM’s 62nd anniversary. Marcus Bourke, ASMSU’s President from 1942 gave the dedication address. The former Student Union Building was given to the Arts and Crafts department and is now know as the Fine Arts Building.
Among the big name acts that appeared in the Lodge were Stan Kenton and his ‘Artistry in Rhythm’ dance band and billiards pro Charles C. “show me a shot I can’t make” Peterson who held the world’s fancy shot, American Redball and Balk-line titles. According to the Kaimin, “His demonstrated repertoire… includes such feats as lofting balls into hats, riding the rail, balancing one ball on top of the other, dollar shots, difficult masse, and reverse English shots.”
“The Room,” an all-student gathering place, opened in October 1956. Located in the basement of the Lodge, it included a ‘Coke’ bar, booths, a dance floor, bumper pool and bowling. Some time between the October opening and the following January “The Room” had closed due to lack of interest and poor facilities. It re-opened in January as the “College Inn” and featured a pizza oven, soft drinks and coffee, and more modern interior decorations.
In 1961, Kitty Gleason introduced what was to become one of the Lodge’s most popular programs, Friday’s at Four, which give campus talent a chance to perform live. The Lodge had established itself as the most popular recreation area on campus. “Lodgology” was deemed by one student the most popular course and sport on campus; “The grades are good, the subjects easy, the lecturer doesn’t care if one attends or not. Registration fees run the gamut from 10 cents for a cup of coffee to the price of a full meal… The most popular phases of the ‘lodgology’ course are Smoking 101 and Advanced Time-killing 201.”
Transition to the University Center
According to the Kaimin, as early as 1960 the need for a new facility was already being investigated by two committees, which found insufficient food services and activity space. The “modern half-level architecture” concept, although popular in the fifties, had created an array of accessibility issues. By October 1962, State Governor Tim Babcock had appointed two architects to prepare initial plans for a new student center as well as alterations to the present food service building.
Once again the campus found itself divided. Supporters of a new facility recognized that the Food Service facility would soon be inadequate unless it expanded. Opponents claimed that a new building was unnecessary because it would duplicate facilities which were already available. Another point of contention was cost. Construction of a new student union was estimated at about $2 million; the necessary alterations to the food service building would cost about $200,000.
A survey distributed through the Kaimin in October revealed that about 77% of students who voted approved the proposed new student union building. Official plans and a scale model of the proposed building went on display in the lobby of the Lodge. It was decided that if a subsequent student vote on December 5 passed, the request will go to the Board of Regents and the State Legislature.
In spite of the overwhelming support demonstrated by the October ballot, the debate raged on. Opponents of the proposal claimed that a student union was a distraction from academics and created an environment of “glorified high schoolism.” They argued that few students actually used the Lodge for anything but a coffee break, and therefore saw no need to duplicate facilities that were not being used. In an editorial, a proponent counter-argued that the student union was not a fun house. It provided exchange in the market place of ideas and helped “to bridge the gap between classroom theory and social responsibility.” The student concluded that a student union should challenge students to test ideas and theories and stimulate academic thought.
To the chagrin of those who hoped for a better facility, in December students voted decisively against the proposed Student Union Building. Over half of eligible voters cast ballots in the referendum. Regardless of their decision, the reality of overcrowding in the Commons was undeniable. Two possible solutions were suggested. Either the University would take control of the Lodge assuming that students would eventually want a new facility, or assuming students wanted to keep the present building, Food Services would look to expand elsewhere.
After nearly two years of debate, in October 1964, President Johns decided that students would not have a choice as to whether or not a new student union would be built. They would, however, be able to decide what went into the building. When asked why students should not have the final say about construction of the $3.5 million building, he explained that because of their limited time on campus students’ were unable to anticipate the University’s future needs.
Earlier that summer, President Johns had asked for and received authority to apply for federal planning funds to facilitate an earlier start on construction. Planning for the new student union was authorized by the Board of Regents in October and construction began a little less than a year later.
As a result of visits made by Lodge Director Ray Chapman and a committee of students to a number of neighboring universities, the latest architectural achievements and current concepts of student activities were incorporated into the plans. As it was planned as the cultural and social hub of the campus, the name “University Center” was suggested for the building.
The project was given a green light September 12, 1966 when the Montana Board of Regents passed a recommendation that bids and financing for the project be accepted and a local architectural firm, Fox, Ballas and Barrow, was hired. With the exception of road construction projects, the University Center (UC) was the largest state building project in Montana. It was the 38th major structural facility on the Missoula campus.