Throwback Thursday – Downing Student Union at WKU

The heart of Western Kentucky University’s main campus is the student center. Built almost 50 years ago, Downing Student Union is the home of all things student life. First open in 1970, this week we’re telling its 49-year history.

Designed by Ben Johnson and Frederick St. Clair out of Owensboro, the Downing Student Union represented the epitome of modern education and technology. Built for just over four million dollars, the near 200 thousand square foot facility was the home to all student-related activities and campus’s central hub.

The Downing University Center, or DUC was named for former WKU president Dero Downing. President from 1969 until 1979, Downing played many other roles at the university from 1939 when he enrolled as a student until 2011 when he passed away after serving as President of the College Heights Foundation. DUC replaced the Garrett Conference Center near the Helm Library as the campus hub.

For its initial construction, DUC held stores and mechanical offices, a 500-seat cafeteria, a 750-seat auditorium, the university store, and an entire recreation floor home to a bowling alley, billiard tables, ping-pong and more. 

DUC underwent several renovations along the way, but its largest began in 2012. DUC was officially renamed the Downing Student Union in 2013 when the renovation completely changed the layout and structure of the entire building. Still home to student life and activities, plus large cafeterias and an auditorium, the new space is more focused on individual departments and university events.