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Back and Better than Ever: Welcome to the University Club

A new era for the University Club is beginning. The historic icon, located at 803 State St. closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wisconsin Union is reopening the historic operation, now called Union Commons at the University Club, with new dining options and indoor and seasonal outdoor seating.

The University Club formed in 1907 as a private membership organization that served University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty and alumni. In 1908, the Club would find its home in the residence of UW–Madison Vice President John B. Parkinson at the corner of State and Frances Streets — the same location where the University Club is found today. Over the next 20 years, the organization experienced exceptional growth, warranting several additions to the Parkinson residence. 

In 1924, the home was demolished and replaced with a new wing that accommodated the Club’s continued growth. With this final addition, the building completed its transformation into what we see today. However, growth was not guaranteed. By the end of the 1920s, due to the Great Depression, the Club was no longer financially viable. To save the organization and its building, the University Club’s title was transferred to the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Club continued to serve its members.

As a private organization, the Club offered access to meeting and social spaces as well as entertainment, including billiards and table tennis. The Club even served as a dormitory for short and long-term occupancy until 1969. Through all the architectural and financial changes it endured, the University Club continued to be the location to gather with family, colleagues and close friends to enjoy a formal meal.

While operations ceased in 2020 due to COVID-19, the coming years promise to be a revival for the University Club. Under the Wisconsin Union, the Club – now known as the Union Commons at the University Club – will continue to serve as a prime studying, dining and gathering place.

While we are not offering table service, we’re excited to offer our community the quality amenities the Wisconsin Union is known for. These options will include a light breakfast and lunch menu as well as coffee, tea, espresso and single servings of beer and wine. 

To ensure the space is ready to serve guests, the Wisconsin Union team has devoted itself to cleaning and restoring the building after its two-year closure. While preparing it to reopen as a dining and socializing space, the building served a vital function for the campus community as a temporary UW–Madison COVID-19 testing facility. Restoration efforts will continue with a remodel scheduled a year and a half from the University Commons’s initial opening. These efforts promise to keep the University Club flourishing for years to come while maintaining its historic charm.

The Club’s neighbor, the Memorial Union, awaits for you nearby, as well, with lakeside options for relaxation and dining. While we are not quite ready to host guests’ events at the Club, we still have beautiful, versatile event and meeting spaces at Memorial Union and Union South. Visit union.wisc.edu/events for more information. 

Welcome back to the University Club and to your new extension of your expanded campus living room! You’re welcome here.

Author: Austin Barrett

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