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IDKT: The History of the Student Union Building

By Taylor Rico-Pekerol

To know something is to love something and we love our campus. There’s something so special about the campus that connects us to the Boise State community. Appreciating this beautiful space we have really gives us that Bronco feeling like nothing else can. So, to deepen those feelings of home, we’re sharing with you some history about buildings on the Boise State campus.

We know the Student Union Building (SUB) as the place that has a little bit of everything: multiple eating areas, the Bronco Shop, dozens of meeting rooms, and a student Game Center — I mean, it seems like there’s a constant stream of people going in and out, right? Well, the SUB has changed a lot from what we know and love today. Switching locations, multiple additions, remodels, and even a fire is all a part of the history of this building.

The SUB was first located in what is now the Communication Building next to the tennis courts and opened in 1942. Although physical aspects of the SUB have changed, the mission and vision have stayed the same to “provide a space for students to come together.” 

When the student population outgrew the capacity of its first location, the new Student Union was opened in August of 1967.

A map below shows Boise State’s campus in 1965.

Boise College Campus Map 1965

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is a conceptual design from 1966 of the “College Union Building,” which later became the SUB in 1967. Photo courtesy of the Library Archives.

Student Union conceptual design artist from 1966

 

 

 

 

History of the SUB

1967

The official opening took place on Sept. 23 with a semi-formal dance and a private dinner attended by the Idaho Governor at the time, Don Samuelson. 

With the move to the new space, a second floor was added along with more meeting spaces, a bookstore, a barbershop for haircuts in between classes, and a recreation center (now known as the Game Center) where students could rent gear, play pool, or bowl.

One of the meeting spaces was a ballroom for student organizations to use. Pictured below is the ballroom sometime before 1970, courtesy of the Library Archives

Ballroom photo from 1970

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1972 – 1986

A 14,000 square foot addition in 1972 included the Special Event Center and spaces on two more sides of the SUB.

After a large fire burnt a portion of the first floor of the SUB in 1987, repairs and clean-up lasted until 1991 with a grand re-opening in September of that year. In the SUB report after the remodel, a list of activities and amenities were released, including the following:

  • Union Street Cafe
  • Table Rock Cafe (later renamed Boise River Cafe)
  • Indoor Game Center
  • Lounges and meeting spaces on the second floor

Campus Map from 1975 courtesy of the Library Archives.

Boise State Campus Map 1975

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1987

On Sept. 18, a fire broke out in the bookstore, on the first floor of the SUB, due to leftover rags combusting from the remodel, the clean-up cost over $1.25 million.

1991

The grand re-opening took place in 1991, after reconstruction from the fire and a 21,000 square foot expansion, which connected the SUB to the Special Events Center. The grand reopening program “Cruise the Union” in September featured more than 70 events, tours, and contests, plus food for more than 12,000 guests.

May 8, 2007

The groundbreaking ceremony for another addition to the SUB took place for a 66,000 square foot addition; adding a ballroom, larger bookstore, outdoor space, and the Veteran’s Memorial, which can be found outside near the entrance to the Boise River Cafe.

2022

Currently, the second floor of the SUB has been going through another remodeling process since 2019. New carpets, lounge chairs, couches, and tables have been added as well as a Resiliency Room among other amenities. The SUB is still a great “space for students to come together”, but it has evolved over time to include more tools for students to be successful. The goal for the new space is to give you a place to turn to for everything you might need, whether it be dining areas, study spots, meeting rooms, or somewhere to just sit and relax between classes.

Now that you know the history of the SUB, maybe you’ll think about all it’s been through the next time you cruise through. You can think about those who bowled or played games there before you, or maybe sipped on a coffee right where you’re studying or put on a student event just like yours years ago.