In 1980, the University of Houston Downtown College had just received the green light a few months earlier to start issuing four year degrees. With this new designation, students were staying at the College longer and seeing it more and more as a “home away from home.” The M&M building, having been built essentially as a retail and warehouse space, had not been planned with large gathering spaces in mind. The students decided that they needed a place to hang out between class periods, to study and catch up with peers and hold meetings. The only place to do that was the cafeteria. David Wallace, then Director of Student Affairs, said “students cannot sit in a cafeteria and make friends and chat, due to the noise.”
So the student body asked for an unused space on the third floor, and with their own labor, transformed it into a student lounge. Labor was volunteer, and all materials were donated. A design class at UH Central used it as a project to design a space with a 1930s feel, and the University contributed paint supplies and air conditioning for the space. Soon many students pitched in to help. The students dubbed the lounge “the Pits.”
The tables were just spools for large cable, donated by Southwestern Bell. The mural was done by student artists.
Additional items were found to be brought in, like vending machines, a juke box, a pool table, and pinball machines. The student photographer for the Bayou Review student newspaper, Mike Marx, said “the Pits represents the most organized effort ever put forth by both students and faculty to accomplish something worthwhile for the school.”
The grand opening on May 2, 1980 was a star-studded event: Dr. Charles Bishop, then-President of the UH System, Leonard Rauch, Chairman of the Board of Regents, and all of the administration of UHDC were on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Not only was a large plaque dedicated, with all the names of everyone who worked on the Pits, but the Mayor himself, Jim McConn, proclaimed May 2 “UHDC Day in Houston” in honor of the “dedication” shown by the UHDC community to bring its students a place of their own. The Houston Chamber of Commerce also issued a statement, congratulating the students on their perseverance and hard work, and called them “a credit to their generation.”
In the end, nearly 60 members of the UHDC community participated in the effort and built a comfortable space for students to take time off to socialize and relax. For a commuter campus, and in a building that was already bursting at the seams, it was controversial but necessary, and it bore fruit, as students were able to become more of a community, together.