Memorial Hall is an easy building for some students to miss. Despite being a meeting spot for LGBT organizations and international students, for many others it just serves as an obstacle to the student gate on game days or a backdrop for a bus stop. Just decades ago, the building served as a hub of activity for University of Georgia students, faculty and staff.
An interesting inception
“I think Memorial Hall is one of the most fascinating buildings on campus,” said Steven Armour, a University Archivist at the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
The building officially opened in 1925, but it had been stalled in the planning phase of construction since the early twentieth century, said Akela Reason, associate professor in UGA’s history department.
The building started as a collaboration between the university and the local branch of the YMCA to construct a recreational sports facility. Following World War I, it was decided the building would be dedicated to UGA students and faculty who died in the war. This choice rapidly sped up the fundraising process.
“Funding its construction was UGA’s first major effort at private fundraising and alumni relations, something we take for granted now that was kind of unheard of back then,” Armour said.
Reason, who specializes in memorials, highlights the building as an example of a growing trend in the early 1900s of “living memorials,” which serve a practical as well as commemorative function.
The original building featured an indoor swimming pool, basketball court and a ballroom.
Near the end of its construction in 1924, an edition of The Red & Black from that year recognized the building as “an epoch in the recent era of development that is sweeping Georgia forward.”
A center for social change
Following World War II, the Navy used the building for its campus activities for many years, but it was turned over for university use in the mid-1950s. The long-forgotten swimming pool was filled in, and the building was converted into a bookstore and a dining hall.
Later on, the bottom floor would become “The Bulldog Room,” which served a similar function to the dining area in the Tate Student Center today.
Over the next 30 years, the building would serve as a home for major social change happening on campus that mirrored the changes happening across the country. During that time, the area outside of the hall served as the campus’s free speech area. Several major protests against the Vietnam War happened, in part, outside of Memorial Hall, during the 1960s.
Around the same time, the university was seeing some its first LGBT activism.
“The first LGBT activism on campus occurred in 1971 and centered around the right of a student group called the Committee on Gay Education to hold a dance in the Memorial Hall ballroom,” Armour said.
Near the end of Memorial Hall’s stint as a student center in the early 1980s, it also became a hub for black student life on campus. In 1982, around the same time the Tate Student Center was being built, the Black Student Union presented plans to the university to use part of Memorial Hall, once vacated, as part of a cultural center.
Jerry Anthony started working at UGA in 1974 and joined the Student Affairs team in 1976, which was housed in Memorial Hall until Tate Student Center opened in 1983.
This summer, during some minor construction in the building, a menu was found from “The Faculty Center” dining services, which opened in 1988 and closed in the early 2000s. Though Anthony had already moved across the street to the Tate Student Center by the time the cafe opened, he remembers visiting the faculty center many times to eat.
“We didn’t have … a place for faculty to go and gather and eat and spend time [before The Faculty Center],” Anthony said.
The building also held the Office of the Registrar for a few years, where students went to sign-up for classes before online registration was available.
Today, Memorial Hall holds a variety of offices, including the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Exploratory Center and International Student Life.
Reason hopes that the building, which she takes students to tour as part of two of her classes, gets more recognition in the future.
“It’s such an interesting building and so much history has happened there, but it’s kind of hidden because it’s a building that students don’t often have a reason to go there anymore,” she said.
If you even have time to kill between classes or studying at the MLC, consider venturing over to Memorial Hall.