Tuesday, July 10, 2018

February, 1944: The Engineer- FANCY Student Union Building

Article in The Engineer by Opa


The New Student Union Building
The Sub
of Kansas State

By Thomas Doeppner, E.E. '44

Let us dream for a while. Let us imagine this  were 1954 instead of 1944. The war will have been over for quite a while, and the SUB of Kansas State, the Student Union Building, as designed by the Architecture Department, will be in use for students and faculty. We get out of Heat Power Class in the Engineering building, and, therefore, need something to remind us that there are also pleasant things in the world, so we cross the street and enter the SUB through its Main Entrance. To our right, there is the office of the caretaker, and right behind it, the famous window with the word "Information" written on top of it. Behind that window, there sits one of those coeds who disprove the theory that nine out of ten girls in Kansas are cute, and that the tenth one goes to Kansas State.

Just in time, Clair discovered that the girl was wearing something sparkling on the third finger of her left hand, so we decided to continue our conversation to business. Conversation we wanted, however, so we had her tell us a little something about the history of our famous SUB.

We found out plenty. It was early in the forties when that new president of General Electric was still an undergraduate at Kansas State, that the students decided that something just had to happen to make life more interesting and more college like on K State campus. The bowling alleys in Aggieville just became too crowded; the time you had to wait for your coke in the Palace became just too embarrassingly long, and there was no place in town where a girl could play pool, or where you could dance on week nights. So, a committee consisting of both students and faculty members was set up and, unlike most committees, they got something done. Even we knew that for a great number of years every student was soaked five dollars per semester for the would-be Student Union Building, until a sufficiently great amount of money was collected to pay at least part of the expenses for the new building. The total cost of the building: a small matter of $800,000. The students decided to pay half of it, the rest was to be paid by the state. A loan of approximately 300,000 dollars was to speed things up a little bit.

Right after the war (our dream did not tell us just what year that was: even dreams won't reveal military secrets) the building was started, and only a little more than two years after that, it was ready for use. The building was built in three sections: the center wing first, and after it was completed, they added the right wing, and then the left wing.

Because of the afore-mentioned reasons, we did not bother our Information-please girl any longer, but continued our excursion trip as stags. We crossed a wide corridor and entered the Main Lounge. It is a huge one, its size more than eight thousand square feet. Easy chairs and little tables are scattered around the place, and quite a number of students act as though this was their living room at home. Some are catching up on badly needed sleep, others are engaged in some pretty hot bull sessions, and over there in the corner sits a girl who actually seems to be studying.

There are four smaller lounges, two on each the west and east side of the main lounge. On the east, there is the art lounge and the browsing library. No wonder our art department looks sort of empty these days; it seems as though all of the better exhibits have been taken down here to decorate the art lounge. In the browsing library, we find another bunch of students, each of them sandwiched in between an easy chair and a magazine (anything from Ladies' Home Journal to Esquire) or a book of fiction. It certainly is a relief: there appears to be not a single technical book in this paradise of reading. On the west, there is the tea lounge and, right north of it, the music lounge. Nobody is serving tea right now, so we go one to the music lounge. Thank goodness the doors and walls are soundproof, for you could not expect any outsider to listen to that girl take her daily gym exercise on the piano. Fortunately, our appearance and probably shocked and tortured-looking faces make her quit, so we can enjoy looking at things. That looks like a swell grand piano she was pounding on, and while Teet is dreaming about the way his girl would look sitting on that bench in front of the paint, Clair and I discovered a radio and super-modern record player. Record player is an instrument which I have learned to play with a considerable degree of perfection, and with the help of an ample collection of records, I gave an unusually good performance of Bach, Beethoven, Irving Berlin, Ray Stokeley, Tschaikovsky, and Matt Betton.

Clair thought he needed some fresh air, so we crossed the main lounge and stepped onto the terrace just south of it. There was Pete, with dark glasses, taking a sun bath, while Ruth used her household physics in a vain attempt to find a position in which the sun would shine neither on her face nor on her book. We crossed the main lounge again, going north this time, and continued our investigations. The first door to which we came after turning east in the corridor, had written on it "Women's Lounge." I wanted to peek in there too, but Teet wouldn't let me. He said Dean Moore may be inside. Only after he promised me to let me sleep for ten minutes on the davenport in the men's lounge, I gave in.

The corridor turned a corner, and we decided to do the same, so here we went south again. It seemed as though all the extra-curricular activities of the entire college were concentrated in this wing. Here was the room of the Student Council, then three rooms for college activities, the YMCA and YWCA offices, and the offices of the student pastors. 

Back we went on our corridor, and to the west wing. Right at the corner, the north-west corner, there was the Social Room. Quite a room; 49 by 19.5 feet in size, it looked just terribly expensive. Expensive upholstery, good pictures on the walls, Clair unconsciously adjusted his tie when entering that room. (I would have too, had I worn one.) South of that room, there was the office of the alumni secretary, and then there were three rooms whose existence I had never expected. An alumni lounge, a faculty lunge, and a faculty game room. We couldn't go inside of course, but Teet let me take a look. You should have seen the way Dea Durland beat Prof Kerchner in ping-pong; the score was 18 to 11. And here I thought Kerchner would need all his spare time to think up those tricky questions he asks us on A.-C. Machinery quizzes.

Clair wants to go to the second floor, so we go. Boy, does that ever look stylish. There is a ball room which makes the Avalon look like a deserted dessert plate. Here is room for 620 couples, and that leaves 15 square feet for each couple. A movable platform is provided for Ray Stokeley, his successor or assigns, and a cyclorama which furnishes that background which so many a dance band needs so badly. all that is on the east end of the two-floor ball room: on the west end there is, believe it or not, a serving kitchen. I start indulging in future planning: grab a girl with your right hand, a bottle of coke with your left, swing the one around the ballroom and press the other one close to your lips. As long as you don't get them mixed up, it works swell.

On the other side of the kitchen there is, lo and behold, another dancing room. This one is smaller, though, and holds only 235 couples. There is a small band platform and right behind it, a terrace. Just think of those moonlight nights in May, when you can take her out on the terrace for a waltz. That gives me an idea, and I go back to the large ball room. Yessir, there is another terrace, a larger one yet, connected to the ball room I wonder if the are going to have chaperones both inside the ball room and out on the terrace? Some more activity rooms, two dining rooms, and a number of lounges make up the rest of the second floor. Oh yes: there are one, two, three phone booths out in the hall. Teet thought they might come join handy. When someone cuts in on him, he can go out and call up another Margaret.

Up we go to the third floor. As suspected, another series of activity rooms: (Clair calls them "necking rooms." He won't tell me why, though.) There is a small balcony to watch the jitterbug from, and there is a large balcony, right over the band platform, to do the jitterbug on. The size of that balcony is 79 by 23.5 feet. Figuring 15 square feet per couple, that will take care of one hundred thirty-four and a half couples, according to my slide rule. Whether that half couple is a boy or a girl or one half of each, the slide rule won't say.

I wanted to go to the fourth floor, but Clair said there wasn't any. So we went down again, to the basements. Yes, plural: there are two of them, a basement, and a sub-basement.

The basement looked awfully good to me. There was a huge cafeteria with 466 seats. I didn't feel like eating a meal yet; that Heat Power class was still lying in my stomach, but a little refreshment wouldn't be too bad. So we went to the canteen, which is just adjacent to the Cafeteria. It was a good-sized place, too. A counter with 20 seats, and then, all around the walls, there were thirty five booths, and cozy ones at that. A nickelodeon was provided, and there was dancing space for I-don't-know-how-many couples. Well, I went to the counter, asked for a scotch and soda, got a dirty look and a coke, drank the latter, paid for both, and left. "Around the corner" again, to my right, there was the post office, about three times as big as the one which lived in my memory from Anderson Hall; boxes all around it, and some easy chairs in front so you can enjoy reading your flunk slips. Right opposite the post office there is, very appropriately, a billiard room equipped with seven tables. I had not supposed Margie would ever be able to learn that game, but there she was, leaning over the table, tongue between teeth, squinting through one eye toward that unfortunate ball which a few seconds later, to Margie's and every onlooker's surprise, disappeared in one of the holes. Finally a place in Manhattan where girls can play pool.

North of that, there are offices of and for the student publications. The Royal Purple and the Collegian are begotten in these sacred dwellings, and in order to avoid the gossip column for at least one week, we sneak away as softly and fast  as possible. Next stop: one of those three game rooms. They are just all right: ping pong tables, shuffle boards, checkers and chess games, and just a lot of similar items that make life worth wasting.

On the west wing, there are a few rooms my male intuition tells me to stay away from: kitchen and dish washing room. After seeing the electric dish-washing machines, though, the blood returns into my face and I feel better. Clair wants to beat me in a game of bowling, so we go down to the sub-basement.

No kidding, there, as close to China as I have ever been, are twelve bowling alleys with the equivalent number of pin boys. I made a strike the first time, then a few spectators came, and my luck was over. Clair just beat the life out of me, but was nice enough not to tell anybody that he usually does.

The west wing of the sub-basement is filled with what Dr. Grimes of the Economic Department calls "Intermediate goods." Pipes, transformers, air conditioning equipment, and more pipes. Then, there is an idol for home eccers: Vegetable storage, potato storage, meat storage rooms. Back we go to the more inviting east wing, and find another miniature canteen. Fifteen stools around the counter, a tap room with three tables and seven booths, and a stag room with four tables and thirteen booths. On my question whether they tap beer in that tap room, the waiters give me another one of those dirty, dirty looks. I decided I must be so dangerously dirty from all those looks that it is time to take a shower: and sure enough, second door to the right has a sign "Men's Shower Room." Teet didn't think he was particularly dirty, but he is a sociable sort of a fellow, so he took a shower with me.

Clair would do that to me. He reminded me that it is time to get back to the Engineering Building for my Strength of Materials Class; the mere thought of it would wake anybody up from any dream which is not a nightmare, so my dreams were over and I found myself in Strength Class: under Prof. Koenitzer at that.

Well, it was just a dream for us. For those boys, though, who ar now in high school, it will become reality. Only a few years and this grand Student Union Building will be born. It might be a consolation to us that we, with our modest (and enforced) donations of five dollars a semester, are contributing to that wonderful addition to K-State Campus, the dram of every student, the SUB of Kansas State.

This is the longest propaganda piece on why the $5 a semester is worth the sacrifice. I think it is fascinating that the Engineer has such a long narrative description of a future building with hardly any technical (or even graphics) descriptions. I enjoyed the dream-sequence into a super fancy Student Union Building. I couldn't imagine it would be that elaborate, but then I looked it up online. 

It's that elaborate. They have a bowling alley, they host weddings and banquets in their great halls. Look here. I mean, holy cow the dream became a reality! It was opened in 1956, so not too far off of Opa's 1954 dream. I'm kind of shocked. 

Yeah, it was worth the $5.

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