The First Student Union 1893-1955
The first student unions were built in the early nineteenth century in England at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford. The union provided a place where students could express themselves and debate the issues of the day. At the turn of the century, the idea emerged at campuses across the eastern United States. The first student union in the United States was organized in 1832 at Harvard University.
In the early years of the University of Montana, there was no official student union building. In 1918, school supplies and books were sold at the Student Retail Center located in an “old shack” behind Main Hall. The need for a separate student building arose in part from faculty concerns about the “moral wellbeing” of the student body. With no central gathering place on campus, most students ventured downtown for weekend or evening entertainment. In 1928, the student body voted to impose a $1 per quarter fee to help raise money to build a student union.
In the early 1930s, the University received a Public Works Administration grant to help build the student union. Designed by Missoula architect C.J. Forbis, and built by Missoula contractor J.E. Hightower, the building opened in the fall of 1935.
In 1955, the university opened a new student union called the Lodge. The old student union was renamed the Student Arts and Crafts Building. A year later, it became the Fine Arts Building and the bookstore was remodeled into the Masquer Theater. In 1998, an addition to the north side of the building enlarged the theater area.