The Texas Union building we know today was opened in 1933 along the West Mall after an extensive $600,000 fundraising drive by University alumni. Called the “Union Project,” and headed by then Texas Exes president (and former U.S. Attorney General) Thomas Watt Gregory, the effort constructed not only the union, but Hogg Auditorium, Anna Hiss Gymnasium for women, and Gregory Gym. The project was extraordinary both for its size, and that much of the fundraising took place during the early years of the Great Depression.
On average, pledges from alumni ranged from $25 to $100, though A.J. Stephens from the small town of Waedler, about 40 miles southeast of Austin, pledged $1, as that was all he could afford at the time. Gregory personally responded: “I wish to say with all candor, that I really consider this contribution of yours one of the most valuable that I have received. It shows the proper spirit and loyalty and I want to thank you most heartily.”
But the Union Project wasn’t the first try at a union. A national trend in the 1920s, elegant union buildings were being constructed on college campuses across the nation, many of them named as a memorial to honor those who had participated in World War I – the “Great War” – which had ended in 1918. No one yet knew there would be a second world war in the years to come.
A student effort to build a union at the University of Texas began in the spring of 1922. There was so much interest, UT President Robert Vinson suspended classes for a few hours one day in March, and called for a campus-wide convocation to discuss the idea. Students dubbed the proposed building the Texas Memorial Union, organized themselves to raise the necessary funds, made plans to include the alumni, and had an architectual rendition produced (see image above). But the project lost momentum over the summer, when Vinson resigned his position at UT to head up Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Photos: Above – the 1922 rendition of the proposed Texas Memorial Union. Below, the Texas Union building opened in 1933 and designed by architects Paul Cret and Robert Leon White.