Peter A. Brooks Memorial Union (1953-2001)
Backstory and Context
Brooks Memorial Union
Brooks Memorial Union was named after The Very Reverend Peter A. Brooks a native of Watertown, Wisconsin, and an alumnus of the university. He was a veteran of the First World War who entered the Society of Jesus in 1921. After serving as Provincial for the Missouri Province (which included Wisconsin), he became Rector and President of Marquette University in 1944.
By the 1940s the original Marquette student union had stood for over three decades, and many began to see it as an outdated building. Following a 1945 trip to the dedication of a new student union at the University of Wisconsin, a delegation of Marquette University administrators began to push for the construction of a new student union. By 1948 an official campaign was launched to raise funding for the new union. Despite the enthusiasm for the campaign, it faced two complications almost immediately after it began. First on May 16, 1948, University President Rev. Peter Brooks, SJ, died suddenly of a heart attack. Brooks himself had spearheaded a campaign to construct the university’s first student union as a student in 1920, and was a firm supporter of the campaign from the start. Second, by the start of 1951 the campaign had only raised $106,000 of the nearly $800,000 needed. Finances were further hampered by a nationwide steel shortage that hiked the cost of the project up to nearly $1.5 million. This problems resulted in the Marquette Union organization dissolving and its assets being absorbed by the university. Nevertheless, construction continued. The new union was designated the Father Peter A. Brooks Memorial Union and officially opened on April 7, 1953.
Throughout its thirty-seven years of existence the Brooks Memorial Union served as a focal point of student activity and the site of a number of non-university events. Among the more notable occurrences was the visit of Governor Nelson Rockefeller in December, 1959, during the Republican Presidential Primaries. After he finished speaking, Rockefeller came under intense questioning over the issue of his support for the dissemination of information regarding birth control abroad. The early 1960s saw a large amount of activity from members of the newly formed Peace Corps centered at the union. One specific instance came in 1963, when the Deputy Director Bill D. Moyers of the Peace Corp visited Marquette and heralded the university as the leading university for student involvement in the Peace Corps. By the mid to late-1960s student activity at the union began to turn very political as it, along with O’Hara Hall, became the two centers for demonstrations. By far the most notable instance occurred in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. On May 8, nearly 200 Marquette students barricaded the doors of the union from the outside, trapping over 400 members of the university faculty and staff inside as they gathered for the annual Pere Marquette Dinner. Ultimately the Milwaukee Police were called in and they arrested two students for their part in the incident. This in turn sparked another demonstration that night as over 100 student protestors gathered in the union’s grill threatening to stay until the police released the two students, which they did not.
While the Brooks Memorial Union continued to serve the university in multiple capacities throughout the 1960s and 1970s, by the late-1980s many begun to believe that the building itself had outlived its usefulness. Thus many pushed for the construction of a new student union at the former location of the Plankinton Mansion. The campaign’s efforts were aided greatly by an anonymous donation of nearly half the necessary funds for the construction of the new union. Construction began on April 7, 1989, exactly thirty-six years after the Brooks Memorial Union opened its doors. The new Alumni Memorial Union was completed in mid-1990, and the building was officially dedicated on October 6. The Brooks Memorial Union continued to stand until 2001, when it was razed as part of the construction of the new Raynor Library.
Marquette University Special Collections and University Archives