Monday, April 27, 2015

The 'reinvestment' of the UW Memorial Union

I have seen the 'renovation' plans. I have voted on which chairs I like for each new area. And now as  I walk through the halls of the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union I try to soak it all in so that I will remember it when it's gone.

I do remember it; as I sit in Peet's Coffee Shop and write, I remember when this space was a video arcade. I remember that it was always hot in here - and loud. It's still warm but instead of the ringing of the pinball and songs of Pacman and phasers of Centipedes there is quiet classical music playing in the background.  My kids loved that arcade but they're grown and gone now. And now I prefer Peet's. So some change is good, I guess. 

According to the plans, the Rathskeller will remain un-touched. I'm thankful for this because, to me The 'Rat" is the heart of this place - if not the soul.  I remember that it welcomed me like a comfortable old friend when I arrived as a seventeen-year-old freshman in the 60's - fresh off the farm and scared to death. I ended up spending long hours here. I met many people; some of whom would become my friends, accomplices, mentors, and compatriots. We studied here. We drank and partied here, too.
We warmed up on cold winter nights here. We gathered and talked and laughed and thought about all the world's problems and all life's wonders. And we conspired to master them all. So yes, I remember; because it became part of the substrate upon which I developed my self.  It was -- and still is -- a unique place where students, staff, alumni and friends can gather and build (rebuild) their selves in some unique way.

But I do understand how time and age can affect old friends - even buildings. I have heard this remodeling effort called a 'rejuvenation'. I can see that. I wish it were as easy to 'rejuvenate' me - or my friends.  As long as rejuvenate doesn't mean reprogram.

And I do understand progress. In the 60's there was no need for a coffee shop or an ice cream store. These have been added to the Union by tucking them into a corner here and there (like that old arcade). The new plans call for each to have it's own proper space within the context of the overall environment. Easier access, better seating, and more efficient service.  

To my mind, there is only one Union on the UW campus. They tried building another one on the south side of campus in the 70's. This was a flop (I wasn't the only one who hated it). Now they've built a new Union South and I have to admit that it's pretty nice. But when I tell someone to meet me at The Union,  I still mean The Memorial Union.

This fall they will close the Union to begin construction. I will miss The Union while it's doors are closed and I will feel the loss. I hope this loss will only be temporary. I look forward, with hope, for it's return.