In a few years, a new age will begin at Fresno State when the New University Student Union is built. However, let’s remember the “campus living room” that’s served Bulldogs well for 50 years.
The College Union, or the CU to several generations of Fresno State students, opened in 1968. It cost $2.1 million and contained 52,000 square feet of space spread over three floors. It was designed for a student population of 10,000.
When it opened on Nov. 11, 1968, it housed a coffee shop on the bottom level along with the bowling alley. It also was home to The Daily Collegian and the Alumni Association offices. Student government and College Union programming offices were located on the second floor.
My brother spent many hours between classes and Senate meetings (he was the senator for the then School of Engineering in 1968/1969) downstairs in the CU bowling and playing pool. The first games in the game center were old-time pinball machines.
By the time I arrived on campus as an undergrad in 1975, the CU was already outgrown. The university was planning for a student population of around 20,000 at that point, and there were roughly 15,000 students on campus then. By the mid-1980s, there were around 22,000 students enrolled.
The lounge on the main floor hosted events such as the Friday night movie series that lasted well into the 1980s and live music of the sort now heard in the Pit at lunchtimes. I saw flicks like the Three and Four Musketeers, “Lucky Lady,” “Smokey and the Bandit” and “For Your Eyes Only” there. Vintage Days’ Casino Night was held there for many years.
The reservation center around the corner from the lounge was where students camped out to buy Bulldog basketball season tickets in the early ‘80s. Fresno State hoops was the hottest ticket in town back then. Everyone wanted to go to the games. The demand grew to the point that students would queue up for three days to buy tickets. Finally, a lottery system was put in place to eliminate the mob scene outside the CU.
The student government offices originally were in the northeast corner upstairs, where Student Involvement is now. Student Involvement had a much smaller footprint back in the day than it has now. The Senate met next door. The CU Productions/Vintage Days office was where Associated Students is these days.
On the bottom level, the area where the USU Information Center and Golden 1 are, was originally open to the sky, just like The Pit by the Food Court. What’s there now was built after the turn of the millennium. At its peak, a small post office, a screen printer, a hair cutter and nail salon and the credit union occupied space in the Bulldog Zone.
The Country Store that was next to the bowling alley in the 1980s was the best of the lot. Far better than the current snack bar, in my opinion. The cinnamon rolls were awesome, and you could get real food there on the weekends.
The coffee shop eventually morphed into the food court. I miss the breakfasts there – I worked graveyard shifts pumping gas and often came straight to school from work. The Pit remains where students gather when the weather’s nice. In the day, it was where parties and intramural teams were planned. It was impossible to find a seat at lunchtime. And it’s still hard.
Dan Waterhouse writes The Collegian’s Campus Column, which prints on Wednesdays. Waterhouse is a lifelong Fresnan. He has written for the Fresno City College and Fresno State student newspapers over the years, including other local publications. Follow him on Twitter: @WaterhouseDan