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The Past is Future

November 14, 2018
commons, Sewanee experience,

Historic photo of Thompson Union with cars parked out front


For a time after its rebuilding following a fire, Thompson Union served the University as a gathering place for students. Soon, the storied building will be returned to that purpose as part of a “distributed commons” concept that has already seen a magnificent partial renovation of Jessie Ball duPont Library as a “Learning Commons” and the recently launched construction of a “Wellness Commons,” an expansion and renovation of the bookstore. The “distributed commons” idea creates gathering spaces for students around campus, in keeping with a scale appropriate to Sewanee rather than a colossal single space.  

Thompson Union once housed the Student Post Office, the Student Union Theater, a snack bar, and lounge. In the 1950s and 1960s, students parked their muscle cars right outside the door, and it was a hub of activity. A gracious stone fireplace (now mostly hidden by drywall) created a mountain lodge atmosphere, and broad stone stairs led to the lower level and the theater. By remembering the past, the University is able to re-energize student life on the University Avenue corridor and provide a facility that meets a clearly felt need—a center for social life and campus-wide interaction.

The project will restore and enhance the former seat of campus life and add new functionality and amenities. A welcoming patio, with Wi-Fi and comfortable tables, will highlight the front entrance, with another patio on the lower level overlooking Abbo’s Alley. The Social Commons will be a hub of student life, placing student gathering spaces and services at the center of campus..

The project presents a great opportunity for donors to reserve naming rights for features of the project. A new terrace just off University Avenue and another overlooking Abbo’s Alley may be named for $250,000, and large gathering spaces (a lounge and cafe) may be named for $350,000. Smaller spaces, such as offices and meeting rooms may be named for $50,000 and up. 

Any gift to the project will help renovate this great old building and restore its purpose as a center of social life on University Avenue. 

If you are interested in a gift that goes beyond current-use dollars, named endowed internship funds begin at the $100,000 level. Named endowed scholarship funds begin at the $150,000 level for the College and $75,000 for the School of Theology.