Did You Know?: Union Rack and Roll

November 6, 2014  

Union Rack and Roll

Union Rack and Roll has been housed in the basement of Purdue Memorial Union since 1936. The facility offers discounts to students as well as faculty and staff who display their Purdue ID when checking in on a bowling lane or billiard table. (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke) 
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Of all the traditions Purdue Memorial Union has adopted since its opening in 1924, some of the liveliest reside in the basement: bowling and billiards in Union Rack and Roll.

By the time bowling lanes were installed in the Union in 1936, bowling had become so popular among college students that many student unions across the country housed bowling lanes, and the Association of College Unions even hosted National Bowling Championships. Purdue was no exception to this craze: Ten more lanes were installed in the Union in the 1940s -- lanes that still stand today, although they’ve been renovated.

Union Rack and Roll today is, of course, different from the space that students of the '30s and '40s would’ve known. According to Scott Savage, recreation facilities manager at the Union, a large-scale renovation in 2001 provided for a completely updated facility.

The original lanes were removed and 12 billiards tables were installed, and the 10 lanes that were added in the 1940s received an overhaul. Modern decor and automatic scoring were also installed during this renovation.

After the renovation, the Union Recreation Center (as it was called then) saw a dramatic increase in usage and traffic, but it still had trouble establishing its own identity apart from the Recreational Sports Center. In order to help this, a contest was held to generate a new name for the center, henceforth dubbed the Union Rack and Roll.

The Rack and Roll offers discounts to students as well as faculty and staff who display their Purdue ID when checking in on a bowling lane or billiard table. On weekends, the Rack and Roll works with Purdue Dining and Catering to host events such as birthday parties, corporate events, after-proms, wedding receptions, and charity fundraisers. It also has three bowling leagues and one billiards league that are open to students and staff.

Beyond the traditional open-play options of bowling and billiards, the Rack and Roll offers a large selection of video arcade and pinball games. On Friday and Saturday nights, open play features black lights, special effects lighting, music videos, sporting events on the big screen TV’s, and prizes.

“I hope that our patrons are provided with a friendly, fun environment that makes them stop and think that this place is special,” Savage said. “We feel that we are a hidden gem on campus.”  

Writer: Anna Schultz, 812-447-5229, schult70@purdue.edu

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