Pond & Pond
The Michigan Union’s beginning
The Michigan Union has been a special place in the lives of University of Michigan students for nearly 100 years. But how much do you know about the individuals who designed the building?
Here’s a little history:
The architects were Irving (1857-1939) and Allen (1858-1929) Pond, both born and educated in Ann Arbor. They were the sons of Elihu Bartlit and Mary Barlow Pond. Elihu Pond was editor and publisher of the Ann Arbor Argus newspaper and later the warden for the state prison in Jackson.
Both brothers attended the University of Michigan, where in 1879 they were pupils in architectural classes given by William LeBaron Jenney, who commuted from Chicago to deliver the first courses in architecture at Michigan. After graduation, the brothers moved to Chicago and eventually opened the firm of Pond and Pond. Together they shared credit for many buildings including Hull House, the Chicago Commons, the City Club in Chicago.In Ann Arbor, they also designed the Michigan League and Student Publications Building.
Working in the Arts and Crafts style, the brothers gained renown for elaborately detailed brickwork and irregular massing of forms. One of their earliest projects, in 1885, was a building for the Ladies Library Association of Ann Arbor. Only the dated cornerstone survives—preserved in a stairwell of the present Ann Arbor Public Library.
Eventually, the firm became considered among the "earliest modernizers in architecture" in the period after the Great Chicago Fire.
The Michigan Union was first a student group, rather than a building, formed in 1904. By 1907 the group had grown to 1,100 male students and the founders looked to find a physical home for the organization. They purchased the home of Thomas Cooley, a longtime U of M law professor, on State Street. Eventually outgrowing that space, the organization acquired two adjacent lots, demolished the Cooley home, and hired Pond and Pond.
The new Michigan Union building was funded via pledges. Progress on the building was halted at the beginning of World War I, although part of the structure served as a Students’ Army Training Corp barracks. After the war ended, the building was finished and opened in 1919.
Pond and Pond are noted for their student union design expertise, and also built unions for the campuses of Purdue University, Michigan State and University of Kansas. One interesting note is that their most significant student union building, the Michigan Union, was built on the site of the brothers' boyhood home.
Originally, women were only allowed to enter the building through the North entrance when accompanied by a male escort, due to the founders' belief that the women's center at that time was in "the parlors of the Barbour Gymnasium."
In 1929, the Michigan League, also designed by the Pond brothers, was built on North University Avenue as the women's union. In 1956, the policy of requiring escorts and of requiring women to enter through the North entrance was eliminated. In 1968, the last place in the Union to have such a policy, the Billiards Room, ended its policy and admitted women on an equal basis.
Outside of his profession, Allen Pond worked diligently for reform in public and special education. He sat on the Chicago Board of the Public Education Association and became very interested in the cause of education for the blind and disabled.
Also, in an attempt to further the cause of Chicago's many reform movements, Allen initiated in 1896 an attack on corruption in the city government. The Municipal Voters' League, which he founded that same year, and the Union League Club were two organizations which were useful to him in effecting social change. As an expert on labor relations, he often served as an arbitrator in Chicago's strikes and boycotts.
Since the opening of the Michigan Union in 1919, a multitude of renown visitors and guests, students and staff, have entered its doors, including then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who delivered a speech announcing his Peace Corp proposal on the union steps in 1960.