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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.