A lounge and soda fountain called the Dry Dock was opened in the Madison Hall basement in 1943 and “was pronounced a howling success. It was said to be the first thing remotely describable as a student union that the University ever had,” wrote Virginius Dabney in Mr. Jefferson’s University.
The Dry Dock offered up cold drinks and sandwiches, along with a nickelodeon and pinball machines. College Topics enthusiastically endorsed it as a “gathering place for all students.”
Built in 1905 as the first university-based YMCA in the country, Madison Hall was converted into a student activity center in 1934 and served that purpose until Newcomb Hall opened in 1958, amid considerable controversy. Alumni News reported that many students feared Newcomb Hall represented “creeping State U-ism” and scoffed “at its gleaming marble and corridors, ‘antiseptic’ room for pool, billiards and table tennis, and the bright, clean cafeterias. They called it the Ping Pong Palace, Pleasure Dome and, in reference to its sprawling architecture, the ‘dead elephant.’”