The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Mimes Theater Building

When the old home of Judge Thomas M. Cooley was purchased and remodeled in 1906-7 to serve as the first Michigan Union Club House, the activities of the Union were already extensive. In 1912, therefore, an addition 60 by 120 feet was built to care for student needs and to accommodate the influx of alumni expected to return for the celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the University in June of that year. Four years later, in 1916, the Cooley residence was torn down and work on the present Union Building was begun. The addition, however, which had been used for the most part as a dining room and ballroom, was moved to a site north of the Union to serve as temporary headquarters for the Union while the new building was under construction.

In 1921, after part of this addition had been destroyed by fire, the beams supporting the dance floor were opened at one end and a stage was constructed. Seats from old University Hall were installed to complete remodeling of the building as a theater. In The Michigan Alumnus for October, 1921, it was reported:

Work on transforming the old Union building into a little theater has been progressing rapidly during the last few weeks and it is expected that the stage will be ready for the opera rehearsals next week. The new theater will be known officially as the "Union Playhouse."

The completion of this playhouse will be another demonstration of the need for a campus theater. At the present time there are five organizations besides the Union which give at least one play during the year. Some of these have been given in Hill Auditorium, some of them in Sarah Caswell Angell Hall, but the proper stage facilities for dramatic work are lacking.

The new Union theater will have a seating capacity of 400 and a stage large enough to take care of standard size scenery. From wall to wall the stage measures 50 feet and is 30 feet deep. The opening is 28 by 16 feet, approximately the standard size. Three dressing rooms, a costume room under the stage, and a screened orchestra pit large enough to seat fifteen people have been provided. The floor of the building has been elevated so as to provide good vision from any part of the house.

These alterations cost the Union approximately $3,500.

For a number of years this theater Page  1688was used for Union productions. In February, 1922, it was taken over by the Mimes Society, a student dramatic organization which was under Union auspices. Here rehearsals were held for the annual Union operas.

Play Production classes, using old University Hall as a laboratory, were forced to move, because the building was condemned as a fire-trap. New quarters, therefore, had to be found for these Speech Department courses, and, as a result, the Regents rented the Mimes theater from the Union and presented it to the Speech Department, primarily for the use of the Play Production courses. It was formally opened as a Laboratory Theater on December 1, 1930.

Alterations to the building were made at this time so that, in addition to the stage and auditorium, the Laboratory Theater provided a Green Room designed to be used as a lobby or reception room or, on occasion, as a classroom. Two offices were constructed in the rear part of the building. In the basement were two more classrooms, make-up rooms, and a storage room. The Laboratory Theater, however, in its turn, only a year or so later was condemned as a fire hazard and boarded up.

With the construction of the Michigan League in 1930, however, the work in Play Production was moved to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. The old theater building was finally razed to make way for the parking lot and drive behind the new Administration Building.