The Illini Union Hotel, located on the Illinois Main Quad (our backyard), boasts 74 rooms which includes two suites. The hotel occupies the third and fourth floors on the south side of the building.
Steeped in tradition, the Illini Union encompasses the ideals of the University of Illinois.
The architecture was modeled after Colonial Williamsburg. The interior features hand-carved maple woodwork by craftsman John C. Freiberg, which has been beautifully preserved throughout the years. For many Illini, the 30-foot open-arched cupola and its 11-foot bronze weathervane is the distinctive feature of the Illini Union. In the belfry of the cupola is the university’s historic chapel bell; at its base is the “old clock,” a gift of the class of 1878. The building opened on Feb. 8, 1941. A year later, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt christened the doors of the Illini Union in 1942, thus beginning the rich history of the building-enjoyed by students, faculty, alumni, staff and guests like you.
The Illini Union is more than a building; it is an institution with its roots deep in the past. Two active student organizations, the Women’s League and the Illinois Union organized for men students, saw the need for a Union building. In 1910, these two student groups began making their plans and desires known. It took them nine years to get a start. In 1919, the Illinois Union rented quarters on the first floor of the YMCA building at the Corner of Wright and John, now Illini Hall. By 1927, the Union had purchased the entire YMCA building plus the Bradley Arcade as an annex.
Meanwhile, interest in a specially built Union building intensified until 1934, when A.C. Willard was inaugurated as president of the University. One of President Willard’s first official acts was to appoint a committee to investigate the Union building proposal. When the University razed University Hall-the site on which the Illini Union now stands, the decision to build on this site was unanimous.
Architects Howard Lovewell Cheney and John Calvin Leavell captured Presidents Willard’s vision for the Illini Union, “to provide a distinguished social center for campus life, which it is hoped will furnish not only service but real inspiration for better living and a finer University.”
Actual construction began in 1939 with funds from the Public Works Administration and an insurance company loan along with a small fee to be assessed each student. The furnishings and equipment were purchased with contributions from alumni and other friends of the University.
In 1941, the Illini Union Board emerged to supervise the general student programming within the building and the two previous student groups were dissolved.
In 1963, a $6.9 million addition was completed which enabled the Illini Union to widen its services and facilities. New York architects Eggers and Higgins designed the addition and collaborated with the architects of the original building H.L. Cheney. Striking features of the Illini Union are two winding staircases with white iron balustrades and mahogany handrails.
The baroque fireplace in the Art Gallery, with its carved molding, ornamental and broken pediment, was inspired by the Italian Renaissance movement of the eighteenth-century England, which was so popular in colonial America. The fireplace in the General Lounge, Room 210, is a copy of the famous mantel in Gadsby’s Tavern, Alexandria, VA, now in the Metropolitan Museum.
“The Fountain of Diana,’ by Carl Milles, which stood in the Time-Life Building in Chicago, was given to the University in 1971 by members of the class of ’21 and stands on the west side of the Illini Union.
The Illini Union has spirit, employing over 800 students.
The Illini Union spirit, along with the beautifully crafted physical building itself, is what you will remember. The building remains the center of the campus community life. It is the spirit that is carried wherever Illini go.
The ever-developing ideals, functions and services of the Illini Union are forever changing to meet the needs of the students and campus. Being sensitive to the changing needs of the University life is the only way to retain the basis of its spirit, to be of service to students, staff, faculty, alumni and guests.
And if you want to ‘see’ where the spirit started, go to the Pine Lounge in the Illini Union and see the special carving on the fireplace. It spells “Illini” and symbolizes the union of all Illini whose efforts have produced the spirit of the Illini Union.