Renovated Old Union to reopen this month in grand fashion

L.A. Cicero Old Union

Starting with a noontime dedication on Tuesday, Sept. 25, the grand reopening of the Old Union, which has undergone a $20 million renovation, will continue with daytime entertainment, student performances and other festivities the rest of the week—leading up to a party for students in the center courtyard on Friday night.

L.A. Cicero Union courtyard

Starting Sept. 25, student entertainment and performances will be held in the center courtyard all week.

L.A. Cicero Union lion head

The much-anticipated reopening of Old Union, to be celebrated throughout the last week of September with events showcasing the extensive renovation, was truly a top-to-bottom makeover: from a serene interfaith sanctuary three floors up awash in natural light to a basement space where student bands can rock out and young poets can slam each other verbally.

Originally constructed from 1913 to 1922 as a women's clubhouse and the first student union at Stanford, the Old Union re-emerges after a $20 million renovation over the last year and a half as a richer social, spiritual and artistic hub for students. The complex still consists of a central building that is the Old Union proper, plus annexes to the north and south—respectively known as the Nitery and the Clubhouse.

The fountain courtyard remains the open-air centerpiece, and some organizations that were occupants before the remodel have returned to the "new Old Union." El Centro Chicano is back in the Nitery, and the Asian American and Native American community centers are in the Clubhouse. The middle building houses a spacious eatery and the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) on the ground floor, the Office of Student Activities upstairs and the Center for Inter-Religious Community, Learning and Experiences (CIRCLE) on the third floor.

And in all three buildings, other modern touches include elevators that now make the complex wheelchair accessible and a wealth of meeting rooms for students—some enclosed by glass panels. Also throughout, open workspaces and lounges are furnished with overstuffed couches and armchairs. The CIRCLE's interfaith sanctuary on the third floor is air-conditioned, while the rest of the rooms and corridors are cooled by ceiling fans.

"We didn't try to create more study space, because we figured students could study in the dorms or library," said Jeanette Smith-Laws, director of student unions. "We really wanted to create a space where we could have flexible programming."

Starting with a noontime dedication on Tuesday, Sept. 25, the grand re-opening will continue with daytime entertainment, student performances and other activities the rest of the week—leading up to a party for students in the center courtyard on Friday night, Smith-Laws said.

"It is so phenomenal to be able to welcome the students back with this beautiful space," she gushed. "The reality of what these wonderful spaces will evolve into—it's exciting."

With the preservation of the Nitery's black-box theater and refurbishing of the multipurpose ballroom on the first floor of the Clubhouse, the complex also becomes a focal point for performing arts. The ballroom features a large hardwood floor and a small stage, to accommodate dance performances and a cappella concerts alike, along with a seating-area extension called the "Cardinal Room."

Meanwhile, the basement of the Old Union will house a performance space that reproduces the feel of the one that went away with the recent closure of the "CoHo" coffee house in Tresidder Memorial Union.

"We're going to take that CoHo feel, that CoHo look, and we're going to create that destination point in the basement in the Old Union," Smith-Laws said. "We don't want to lose the ambiance of the CoHo."

Just inside the main building's entrance, on the left, will be the Axe and Palm, Stanford Dining's newest retail operation. The spacious eatery will boast air-conditioning, high arches and booths embraced by marble, as well as late-night hours: Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. and then until 2 a.m. on Fridays. Saturday hours will be noon to 2 a.m. and Sunday hours noon to 1 a.m.

Along with the ASSU and the Office of Student Activities—both previously housed in Tresidder Union—the Office for Religious Life is now located in the Old Union as well. Adjacent offices on the third floor for spiritual leaders ranging from Buddhists to Unitarian Universalists will bring together the various groups of Stanford Associated Religions that historically have been scattered around campus.

"We are thrilled to be on the third floor of a building dedicated to student activities and engagement, and look forward to being in the thick of student presence and activity," said Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, senior associate dean for religious life. Also on that floor will be a religious library, seminar room and the sanctuary.

The wood-paneled place of worship has windows facing east and benches with red cushions along the walls. The sanctuary was designed not to have a front or rear, and a podium on wheels makes orientation flexible. Separate men's and women's foot-washing rooms for Muslim worshippers just outside have bath-sized black sinks positioned low to the ground.

"It leaves you speechless," Smith-Laws said of the overall complex. "It's the union where anything is possible."

Moreover, the new Old Union brings Stanford one step further in its plan to create a "town center" on campus anchored around White Plaza. Construction plans call for work taking place this year that will create a closer tie between Old Union and Tresidder. Smith-Laws said Tresidder also will see a reconfiguring this year of its tenant spaces inside and an opening up of its outdoor seating so that it blends in better with White Plaza.

"If you go to a downtown area, they have a large park-like setting, and that's what we're hoping to create out here," she said. "The new Old Union is the beginning of it. White Plaza is the next step—along with Tresidder."