For 41 years, the Michigan Union was more than a study-hour refuge or fast-food refueling station.

Jessica Boullion
A student demonstrates a cannonball into the pool that used to be in the basement of the Michigan Union. (Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library)

It was also the place for male students to perfect their backstroke.

Designated originally as a men’s recreational club, the Union’s ground floor – beneath what is now West Quad Residence Hall’s Cambridge House – used to be home to the pool and a seven-lane bowling alley.

The pool, which sat where the Michigan Union Bookstore is today, was part of the Union’s original plans, but it did not open with the rest of the building in the fall of 1919. Because of a lack of funds, the pool wasn’t completed for another six years. Construction was also delayed because the complex was converted into a barracks for army personnel during World War I.

The bowling alley joined the swimming pool in the basement in 1937.

Before the pool was closed, it was the site of competitive student-versus-faculty water polo matches in the mid-1950s. The matches often drew a huge crowd and grew into intense rivalries. Former University Regent Gene Power, a frequent participant in the matches, was known for playing naked.

The pool was closed in 1966 because of high maintenance costs and declining use. Because the Union’s doors were not officially opened to women until 1968, women rarely had access to the pool outside of special events.

The pool was covered after its closing and was replaced with administrative offices that included the Alumni Association headquarters before the space became the bookstore.

Former Alumni Association Director Bob Foreman told The Michigan Daily in 1998 that towel-clad students looking for the pool would wander into his office, which was built over the diving board’s old home.

Jim Waite, who is in his first year as director of the Union, said the Union’s facilities are constantly evolving.

“Change is the only thing that is consistent here at the Union,” he said.

James Dean

– This article was reported using Daily archives and “The Michigan Union: 1904-2004 100 Years of Student Life.”

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