Texas A&M University’s Memorial Student Center (MSC) is a prominent symbol of the institution’s strong history and tradition. The MSC stands as a tribute to Aggies who gave their lives for our country and currently involves about 1,800 students in various leadership roles and committee positions.
The MSC is more than just a building, its serves as a focal point for many student programs at Texas A&M. While most people recognize the MSC, less may have a clear idea of all the MSC has to offer. Our endeavor has been to chronicle the events which led to the building’s conception and to provide an understanding of important MSC functions which have evolved. This page narrates the Memorial Student Center’s history, and describes its operations and programs.
Before describing these aspects of the MSC, it is imperative that we introduce the man who started it all, John Wayne Stark.
From its small beginnings in 1950 to the vibrant presence of today, the MSC has undergone many transformations in order to keep up with the needs of an ever-changing student population. Our goal is to accurately document the impact the MSC has had on generations of Aggies so our history and traditions will be preserved forever.
The Call For a Student Union
The necessity of a student union at Texas A&M was recognized in the late 1930's. Until this time, the Y.M.C.A., Guion Hall and the Aggieland Inn served as the only places for social activity on campus. The university desperately needed a centrally located place for students to gather, and the classes of 1935 and 1936 felt so strongly about this, they collected funds for the development of the student union. In addition to state funding, The Association of Former Students donated War Bonds in the amount of $234,000 which helped fund the construction of the student union. The money collected by the classes of 1935 and 1936 was later used to purchase a silver serving set dedicated in their names.
The need for a centralized facility providing a source of fellowship and social interaction was finally addressed in March of 1946 when the university commissioned the A&M system architect, Carleton W. Adams, to perform a study on the proposed student union. To fulfill his task, Mr. Adams visited seven mid-western universities with outstanding student union buildings and searched for key ideas and ingredients to incorporate into Texas A&M's proposed student union. Today, Texas A&M's student union, housed in the Memorial Student Center, adheres to the goals and intentions set forth in Mr. Adam's original report. The union serves and represents the Texas A&M students, former students, faculty and friends. The union is a memorial to those who gave their lives in service to our country during World War I and II. For this reason, all who enter the building are asked to remove their hats while inside the facility. In his report, Mr. Adams suggested naming the building, "Gold Star Hall," or simply, "The Memorial." The dream later became a reality, and is called the Memorial Student Center.
Phase I: The Student Union Becomes Reality
On 20 September 1947, Texas A&M College President F. C. Bolton turned the first shovel of earth, breaking ground for the Memorial Student Center. The building was formally dedicated on San Jacinto Day, 21 April 1951. The construction of the new MSC lasted approximately three years, ending with an informal opening for the freshman Class of 1954. A bronze tablet, inscribed with the names of those to whom the MSC was dedicated, was placed at the front entrance of the building.
Funding for the $2,000,000 complex and its $300,000 worth of furnishings was received from former students and the Exchange Store. In 1937, the Chancellor of Texas A&M, Jeff L. Horn, distributed a letter to students titled, "A Modern Miracle." This letter encouraged students to donate ten dollars each to help fund the project when they registered. The Board of Directors acknowledged suggestions from the architectural firms were both essential and cost effective; therefore, work on the MSC and the J. Earl Rudder Tower and Theater Complex was approved by the Board later that month.
J. Wayne Stark, an A&M graduate, was hired to head the MSC project as the first director of the Memorial Student Center in 1947. Carleton Adams of the A&M Architecture Department was appointed as architect for the project, and the Robert E. McKee Construction Company of Dallas built the complex. Robert D. Harrell of Los Angeles was the interior decorator for the project.
The final site was selected adjacent to Guion Hall. The new MSC consisted of only two floors and a basement. A sixty-five room air conditioned hotel was incorporated into the design, thereby eliminating the need for the Aggieland Inn. There were 12 conference rooms of varying sizes which could be used for many different events such as dining, parties and receptions. A bowling alley, game room, post office, shops and dining facilities were located on the first floor. The second floor featured ball rooms and meeting areas while the basement housed hobby and craft shops, various bookstores and gift stores. Throughout the MSC were several lounges and offices for MSC administration and student organizations.
The project was well received by the students and faculty of Texas A&M. The public was also able to view the new building through one hour tours on 21-23 September 1950. During the opening days of the Center, special exhibits were displayed highlighting the various activities that would take place during normal operations. Many people enjoyed the bowling and bridge competitions available in the recreation area. A bridge expert was even on hand to lecture to the enthusiasts. The opening ceremonies of the MSC were a success, attracting large crowds from the Bryan/College Station area.