Heart of Campus
The Kansas Union serves as KU’s community center. By its nature, it provides an environment in which all voices can be heard and conversations can occur. Through openness, engagement, and inclusiveness, the Union supports student aspirations for a better KU and community-at-large.
Kansas Union History
The Kansas Union was built as a memorial to the 130 KU alumni and students who died in World War I. A roll of honor and other artifacts were sealed in a copper box and placed behind the 1925 cornerstone of the building on April 19, 1926. The Kansas Union was dedicated by then-Chancellor Ernest H. Lindley following a parade down Jayhawk Boulevard. The building has endured many changes, including several renovations and additions, and a fire in 1970.
History of the University of Kansas Memorial Corporation
A memorial union, which would later become the Kansas Union, was conceived in 1919, after World War I, by students, faculty, and staff of the University of Kansas. Along with Memorial Stadium, the Kansas Union was dedicated to the 130 KU students who gave their lives in the war. Although plans were drawn up quickly, construction did not start until the mid-1920s and, because initial funding was inadequate, was not finished until the mid-1930s. The Grand Ballroom of the Kansas Union signified the official completion in 1934. The Union housed a cafeteria, ballroom, lounges, and the student activity office.
During World War II, the Kansas Union cafeteria was used as a mess hall for 500 Navy machinists who had come to campus for training. The building was a modest 80-by-135 square fee until 1947. During the post-war years, the Kansas Union grew tremendously. Returning GIs had a great impact upon all universities, and KU was no exception. Between 1947 and 1993, no fewer than five major additions were added to the original building.
Today, the Kansas Union is more than 250,000 square feet on six levels. Students can engage in programming at Student Union Activities, visit the KU Bookstore, dine at the Market, grab a coffee at The CoffeeHouse Starbucks, or a bit to eat at Pizza Hut. Arguably, the Kansas Union is the oldest student union west of the Mississippi River.
Of historical note, the first American to die in World War I, William T. Fitzsimons, was a KU graduate, and his photograph appears, with the other 129 students and alumni who perished in the war, on a special plaque located on the Jayhawk Walk on Level 4 of the union.
A satellite union near the residence halls was conceived in the 1970s by involved students and union staff. Constructed and opened for business in 1979, it was renamed the Burge Union in 1982, in honor of Frank R. Burge, longtime director of the Kansas Union.