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Section Header
Sunken USS Arizona lives on in new union

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Electrical engineering junior Jad Halimeh (left) and Peter Tomlinson of Denver talk while overlooking the "anchors" of the new student union.
By Patrick Shelton
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday February 19, 2003

It has typically been a place where students can sit down on campus or grab a meal on the go, but now the Student Union Memorial Center may provide students with a quick history lesson when they visit.

Aside from eateries, services and entertainment forums, the four-story union is also equipped with a number of architectural and design elements that honor the history of the USS Arizona. The ship suffered more than half of the 2,390 casualties during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The new union was built with a desire to preserve the theme of the old one, which was constructed in 1951 and partially funded by students who wanted to memorialize the fallen heroes who died for their country.

"We wanted to represent some continuity," said Dan Adams, Arizona Student Unions director. "We didn't want to just get rid of the old building and start on a brand new one."

So with this perspective and the help of MHTN Inc., a Salt-Lake City-based architectural firm, the Student Union Memorial Center now houses a blend of both subtle and obvious memorializing features, Adams said.

Some apparent features include the exposed original bell from the ship in the clock-tower, the USS Arizona lounge that is filled with plaques, photographs and artifacts, the four busts on the wall of the rounded staircase that represent each of the four military services present during the attack, and the waterfall with the ship's chains.

"There was a lot of discussion about the USS Arizona and how the bell could be represented," Adams said. "I was one of the advocates for getting the bell out of the closed tower and putting it some place where it could be seen."

Some less obvious elements were designed to rely more on symbolism than on practical associations, Adams said.

One of these is the curved wall in the lower level of the union, shaped like the ship, and the color of the Arizona canyons. There is also a relief on the front of the building that depicts a group of soldiers and an upward-flying dove that represents peace over war, Adams said.

In addition, the tall pointed part of the clock tower symbolizes the bow of a ship. The dome at the top of the rounded staircase closely resembles a ship turret, and the elevator lobbies are curved like the bridge of a ship.

"There are a lot of subtle things that are architectural features of the building but could also be carried forward by a person to see the naval symbolism," Adams said.

"We're not trying to memorialize the sinking of the ship. Instead, it is a reminder of the humanity and that we do make mistakes, and we need to learn from those mistakes so they aren't repeated," he added.

Many students are pleased with the thought that went into the redesign of the union.

"I think that students will appreciate what's going on here, just the historical background," said Joe Mullen, a computer science sophomore. "It's something that the school respects, and it gives us a sense of our heritage."

"I think it's cool that the students can be a part of such a special memorial," said Eric Ontiveros, a pre-business freshman. "It's definitely unique how our new union has been designed, and it gives the University of Arizona another thing to be proud of."

According to Adams, it was crucial to have a balance in the union. The Student Union Memorial Center is very much alive and offers a lot to keep students involved, so they did not want to give it a museum feel. Rather, architects worked to make it a compliment the building's environment.

"There's enough to remind you if you want to be reminded," Adams commented. "But (the elements) are subtle enough so that if you don't care, the building is still alive and well with a lot to do."

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