History of Temporary Housing on Campus after WWII

9 09 2016

Quonset Hut Village, 1946; A000106

With the start of a new school year, students move into either the campus dorms or off-campus housing. It’s always exciting to move into a new place, but what if you were starting your new school year in a Quonset Hut or a trailer? That was the reality for thousands of MSU students and new faculty members in 1946 and throughout the 1950s.

After the end of World War II, soldiers returning home were looking to continue on with their lives, by either returning to work, getting married and starting a family, or attending school. Now that returning soldiers had access to funding from the G.I. Bill, MSU President John Hannah opened up the college and welcomed the returning soldiers to campus. However, there was one huge problem: where to put the influx of students?


WWII Veterans Bunk in Jenison Fieldhouse, 1946; A000351

In 1946, the population of campus doubled in size. Campus went from 7,500 to 15,000 students, with 250 faculty members also being added. With the explosion of people, there wasn’t enough permanent housing for everybody. To prepare for the influx, plans were made to house the faculty along with married students. The temporary housing structures for the students included: 449 demountable trailers for families, grouped around 16 attractive service buildings constructed by the College; 104 Quonset Huts to house 1,456 single men, together with a bath house with forty showers and a cafeteria and kitchen to feed 2,000 persons; steel barracks to house 240 single men; and 1,100 family units erected by the Federal Public Housing Authority. For faculty members, 50 temporary houses were built, which included 32 Quonset Huts and 18 British Empire Flat Top houses (Brookover Memoir). With all the new construction taking place, not everything could be completed by the summer of 1946. For that reason, 600 men slept in bunk beds on the floor of Jenison Fieldhouse, and 200 women slept on the top floor of the Union until other housing became available.


Aerial View of Campus over the Temporary Housing Area, 1946; A000074

The temporary housing spread across a large portion of campus. The Quonset Huts and the cafeteria were located in the area of campus where the Breslin Center is now. The trailer housing was located between Harrison and Kalamazoo Streets. The faculty brick apartments were located on Cherry Lane, which was between Harrison and Birch Streets, and the temporary apartments were located between Birch and Chestnut Street. (This description of locations is based off a map of campus from 1950.)

Surprisingly, people have fond memories of living in the Quonset Huts. The men returning from war didn’t mind living in the Quonset Huts because it was something they were already used to from living in the army barracks during the war. According to Edna Brookover’s memoirs about living in the Faculty Quonset Village, she did admit that she cried after visiting campus and learning she would be living in a Quonset Hut, but after moving in and settling into her new life, she enjoyed it. She talked about how the Village was a true “cosmopolitan community” with all the various people and children interacting with each other. As stated by Brookover, “there was always a friend around and a pot of coffee ready at most neighbors’ homes. One could always borrow an egg, a cup of sugar, or whatever. We learned to share. We formed car pools, baby sitting leagues, etc.”

The University and the Director of Married Housing on campus were very responsive to the needs of the Quonset Hut Village community. A storage Quonset Hut, playground equipment, a nursery school, a postal station, and a cooperative grocery were built to help support the Village. As time passed, people saved enough money to buy a house off campus, and as new dormitories were built, students moved out of the barracks.


Quonset Cafeteria, circa 1946; A000378

The Quonset Huts were only supposed to be occupied for a few years, but instead, some stood until the late 1980s! Faculty still lived in the huts as late as 1959, and WKAR broadcasted most of their programs from the large cafeteria Quonset Hut that was converted into a television station.  As the years passed, the Quonset Huts were used for different purposes but were slowly demolished. In 1981, six of the last standing twenty Quonset Huts were torn down, and the rest were razed either in 1987 or 1988 to make room for the Breslin Center.

The Quonset Huts and other interim housing structures were a temporary fix to help the overcrowding of students coming in after the end of WWII. This explosion of people would help lead MSU to become the university that it is today. To learn more about what life was like living in a Quonset Hut, visit the Archives and read Edna Brookover’s “Life in Faculty Quonset Village on Cherry Lane-1946” which is part of collection UA 17.156 Wilbur Brookover Papers.

Written by Jennie Russell, Assistant Records Archivist



Built For Students, By Students: History of the MSU Union

9 05 2011

The end of finals breathed back life onto MSU’s campus. Last week seniors were walking around in their caps and gowns, lawns were filled with celebrating students, cars bustled through streets attempting to find a parking spot, moms and dads were helping with move out, and Grand River once again had people walking its sidewalks. The earlier part of last week however was polar opposite. Few students were in sight as we crammed and studied for the ever so dreaded finals week. Most of campus was barren, however there were two buildings that were full of commotion. The MSU Union and Library seemed to be the go-to spots for studying. As I walked into the Union to grab a cup of coffee (one of many may I add), I remembered looking at many photos here in the Archives of the building in its earlier days. When I came in and was ready to research for a blog entry, my decision on what to write about was quite simple…

The creation of Union buildings on campuses around the US was an up-and-coming trend at the turn of the century. The Michigan Agricultural College wanted a Union of their own and began a committee to be in charge of overseeing the project in 1905. Funds however were scarce so only the architectural drawings and alumni support occurred at this time. It was not until 1915 when the idea of building a MAC Union was revived. The graduating class pledged $5 from each student and with the help of the Alumni Association began the plans to construct an MAC Union. The original plan was to convert College Hall into a union building. This plan was approved and as the interior of College Hall was being revamped in August of 191, the building collapsed.

The Committee yet again began raising funds to create a brand new building to act as a union but also to serve as a memorial to the soldiers who fought in World War I. The projected budget for the project was about $500,000. Pond & Pond Architects, who also planned the unions of University of Michigan and Purdue, were hired to design the new building.  The Groundbreaking ceremony took place on November 19, 1923 and was followed by what was called “Excavation Week”.

“Excavation Week” for the MAC Union was one that will forever be remembered as it was the first of its kind in the nation. Lasting five days from November 19-24, the media covered the event. Movies were taken primarily so the students can see what they looked like and the event yielded great progress.  Male students were divided up into a total of 30 teams. The names of the students were listed in The Holcad newspaper and students were instructed to look there for the day and time of their shifts. Each shift would have a leader; the leaders included: W.C. Johnson, Don Clark, Matrice Taylor, A.C. MacIntyre, Harold Archibold, Elmer Perrine, Bub Kuhn, Ted Frank, J.L. Kidman, and Dutch Allen. The morning shift would work from 8am-12am and then break for lunch. The afternoon shift came in at 1pm and worked until 5pm. Students were required to work four hours before they were excused for the day. Excavation week was very labor intensive but also had its fun activities as well. There were daily appearances by the Swartz Creek and Varsity bands, the girls would bring out refreshments, and the campus faculty would also engage in the digging activities. Competitions were also set up. Each day there were two teams and the team who accomplished the most work at the end of the day would win a prize. There was also a thermometer gauge kept on the site to keep track of the overall progress.

As a result of a lot of hard work and sweat, the MAC Memorial Union building was opened on June 12, 1925. At the time of its opening the Union was quite different than it is today. The main entrance was off of faculty row (currently West Circle Drive), there were 11 dining rooms (some were available to both men and women, and some available only to men), 10 conference rooms, a 2-story assembly hall, separate lounging rooms for men and women, a barber shop, a beauty parlor, a Billiards room (for men only, of course), and a total of 16 guest rooms each with its own bathroom.  The building was the center of life on campus. Constantly full, men and women would mingle, people would enjoy a nice lunch, and guests were able to stay overnight so they could experience college life with their friends. Over the years, the Union has undergone many changes and renovations to be what it is today.

Since its opening nearly 86 years ago, the MSU Union has seen a lot of events, traditions, and changes. Here are a few interesting facts that you might not have known about the Union:

  • Leonard Jungwirth, the same artist who sculpted Sparty, sculpted the artistry around the fireplaces at the first floor lounge
  • Samuel Cashwan, the same artist who sculpted the agricultural sign at the Abbot and Grand River intersection, sculptured the outside decoration above each of the doors at the Union.
  • On May 15, 1952, General Douglas MacArthur and his wife were in attendance at a banquet being held at the Union in which he was an honorary guest. For privacy purposes, the General and his family took a service elevator. The elevator ended up getting stuck and the MacArthurs were trapped inside for nearly 25 min. Upon exiting the general was absolutely furious…this event however didn’t deter him from coming back to our campus, for in 1961 he returned to deliver the commencement address (although I’m willing to bet that he did not step foot in the Union elevators!)
  • Do you know of those tables in the Union Grill area that have all of the etchings in them? – Do you know where they came from or whose names they are? In the 1950s-’60s, there was a “Senior Room” located by the Union Grill. This was a dining room designated specifically for seniors. These wooden top tables were located in this eatery and when the seniors graduated, they would etch their names into the tables.
  • Card playing has always been a favorite pastime of students. In the late ’50s, the administration believed that the frequent card playing going on in the Union Grill was a bad reflection of campus. They believed that students were supposed to be pursuing intellectual past times instead of playing cards all day. So in 1960, card playing was officially banned from the Grill. Instead of playing here, card rooms were opened on the 4th and ground floors for students to play the decks.
  • At one point in time, the Union had pinball machines! In 1971 the Union management agreed to install Pinball Machines in the Billiard Room. However, these were taken out when the room underwent renovations.
  • Often times when students are hungry and looking to grab a quick bite, they will head over to the Union Grill to grab some grub. Did you know that in the early 1930s hamburgers were only 30¢! In a 1968 publication, students were complaining that price skyrocketed to 40¢! Oh what I would give to only pay thirty or forty cents for a burger.

So, after reading this, I encourage you to go explore the Union and think about what it was like almost 50 years ago. I know I would give anything to go back in time and have an ice cold Coke at the Union Grill!

**For more pictures visit the MSU Archives & Historical Collections Flickr Page — MSU Union pictures!**