Welcome to the University of Wyoming’s Living Room

The Wyoming Union on the University of Wyoming opened on March 3, 1939, and soon became the “living room of campus,” as described on the Union’s website.

The university had expanded greatly since its inception in 1886 with a much higher student population. A large gathering space was desired and, by 1935, serious discussions to build a student union ensued. Bonds were issued against student fees to provide construction monies and federal funds were sought and received from the Public Works Administration, which was a Depression era recovery program created in 1933 to offer employment through the building of large-scale public works. Via the PWA, students were hired to do some of the construction work, including stone cutting. The federal agency provided a $128,250 grant toward the project, whose total cost was $295,955, which, adjusted for inflation, is $6,274,183 in today’s dollars.

Early photo of the Wyoming Union by Harold Sanborn, a commercial photographer based in Denver between the 1920s and early 1960s. He shot locations in Wyoming and Colorado and quickly turned them around into photo post cards like this one. University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

William Dubois, a prolific Wyoming architect from Cheyenne, designed the structure late in his career. UW Trustees approved the final building plans during their meeting on December 9, 1937. This swanky new three-story campus social spot would feature a soda fountain, billiard room, game room, and a large ballroom for students to shake a leg. Necessary facilities such as a post office, bookstore, and meeting spaces were also included. As student housing was still in high demand, dormitory space was incorporated onto the third floor. Construction began in November 1937 and completed in February 1939, an event celebrated by faculty and staff with a sedate formal attire banquet in the new dining room. Perhaps the students had a much livelier celebration in the new ballroom.

UW faculty, staff and their spouses at a banquet honoring the opening of the Wyoming Union in 1939. Wyoming Governor Nels Smith is in attendance as seen at the head table on the far right. Box 23, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, Negative #31345.
Photo captioned “Student rendezvous in the new Wyoming Union Fountain Room, Uni. Of Wyo.” University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Well-attended billiards demonstration at the Union, 1940. Box 24, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, Negative #32842.1.

Several additions have occurred since the Union opened. In 1956, plans moved forward to add space to the north, including the expansion of the basement. This addition included more ballroom space and the addition of a bowling alley. Also added to the plan was a 42-room hotel. This was met with resistance from business owners and was removed. The project was completed in time for the start of school in the fall of 1959.

The Union receives an addition in the 1950s. University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Testing out the lanes at the Union’s bowling alley. University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
The Wyoming Union Lounge in 1955. The university’s living room indeed. University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Union holds several noteworthy murals, the best known of which is in a ballroom located on the second floor – Lynn Fausett’s 7 x 28-foot depiction of the “western welcome” of President Arthur Crane to UW in 1922 in which the new president and his family were greeted with a mock hold-up and kidnapping from their Laramie-bound automobile by students dressed in cowboy regalia.

Incoming UW President Arthur Crane and his wife looking rather shell-shocked at their rowdy welcome by UW students in October 1922. As described by UW historian Deborah Hardy: “Out from the window he peers like a prisoner; he is neither smiling nor waving nor eagerly surveying the sagebrush around him. If anything, the camera catches a tone of disapproval for this youthful, high-spirited prank.” Photo File: Crane, Arthur Griswold, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The mural was dedicated in 1940, while Crane was still the university’s president. The artwork originally hung in the student lounge and later in the grand staircase of the union but was moved to its present location in the West Ballroom in 2003 following restoration funded by the class of 1958.

Five individuals significant to UW history are depicted in Fausett’s mural—Crane, front and center; outgoing UW President Aven Nelson, next to him in black hat and suit; longtime university board secretary, faculty member and historian Grace Raymond Hebard on the left in a green skirt; longtime psychology Professor and Department Chair June Etta Downey in a red dress; and next to her longtime Greek and Latin Professor and Dean of Liberal Arts Justus Soule, in gray suit and red tie. Photo courtesy Greg Nickerson/WyoHistory.org. https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/fountain-and-mural-remembering-tragic-cowboy-welcome

More additions and restructuring were completed to the Union in 1973 and in 2002. Although the soda fountain and the bowling alley were removed, the updates did create more dining options as well as vital campus programming relating to student government, Greek Life, diversity programs, and more.

Students can still play billiards at the Union. Photo courtesy UW Wyoming Union

The Union remains the university’s living room and offers a variety of entertainment, dining, and meeting options. Learn more about the Union’s history in the collections of the American Heritage Center. Also take a look at the Center’s virtual exhibit “Keeping History Alive: 136 Years of Progress” for more information on University of Wyoming building history.

Post submitted by University Archivist and Historian John Waggener with additions by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


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