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Nebraska Union

Vital Statistics






Olson Construction Co.



Also Known As:

Student Union

The Nebraska Union stands as a testament to student leadership and determination during the Great Depression. Interest in a building set aside for social, rather than academic, pursuits, had been on students' minds for several years. The advent of the Depression made the possibility of a new building for students highly unlikely; in fact, any new buildings on the campus were unlikely.

By the mid 1930's the Public Works Administration was helping universities across the country address building needs through the construction of facilities partially financed by the PWA and its offspring, the Works Progress Administration. Unfortunately, conservative leadership on the Board of Regents rejected the use of PWA funds and the University of Nebraska benefited very little from its programs. Omaha, in contrast, had used PWA funds to build a new campus for its municipal Omaha University, now UNO, on Dodge Street.

Students leaders, in particular Jack Fischer of Valentine, and later, Irving Hill of Lincoln, stepped up and built a coalition of supporters for a new Union building. A formal request was submitted to the Board of Regents in the spring of 1935 which was allowed to languish. It seems the President of the Board, Earl Cline, steadfastly refused to take advantage of New Deal money. Fischer and Hill then led a rally to resubmit the request, this time backed by the Alumni and faculty, and with assurances from the state PWA administrator, architect John Latenser Jr. It was approved by the Regents, at a meeting when Cline was absent, in January 1936. Davis & Wilson were immediately employed to develop preliminary plans to submit with the PWA application and a committee was appointed to select a location for the new building.

The Public Works Administration provided 45% of the funding for the new building, nearly $200,000. The remainder of the nearly $400,000 building was paid for with students fees used to pay off bonds. Students supported this plan, since the use of bonds had allowed for the successful construction of the Stadium, the Coliseum, and the Women's dorms. Students were charged a fee of $3 per semester for their share of the Union expense, beginning in September, 1937.

By the end of 1936, a location was selected and the Board agreed to purchase properties at the northeast corner of 14th and R for a total expenditure of over $75,000. Over 15 houses and boarding houses sat on these properties, which lay outside the boundaries of the campus. Construction began early in 1937. A Nebraska Student Union Constitution was drawn up, and a Board of Managers was created and charged with oversight of Union activities. This Board was comprised of students, faculty and alumni. C Bertrand Schultz, of the Museum, and Mabel Lee, from Women's Physical Education, were two of those faculty members.

When the Union opened in 1938 it was a welcome and elegant addition to an otherwise run down campus. It soon became a hub of activity for students and student led organizations. The Union cafeteria, as well as The Crib, provided food services for students living both on and off campus, and provided a space for students to "hang out". The ballroom became the scene of speakers, dances, and the dreaded General Registration ritual.

The Nebraska Union has undergone numerous renovations and three major expansions in 1959, 1969, and 1999. With each addition the building moved further north and enlarged its footprint. The Broyhill Fountain, constructed in 1969 as a memorial to a deceased coed, was redesigned with the 1999 addition. Although the mid-century additions ignored the architectural details of the original design, the 1999 addition revisited the red brick, limestone, and traditional details that are associated with the city campus. The south façade on R Street has remained unchanged since 1938.

Source Information:
University Archives; Bd of Regents minutes, 1936-38; Prairie University, Robt. Knoll, U of N press, 1995; Daily Neb. 1935