Houston Hall is the student union at the University of Pennsylvania, established in 1896. The idea of a student union was first established at Oxford University in 1823. Seventy-three years later, Houston Hall became America's first (and now oldest) student union and student union building, both being based on the models of the Cambridge University and Oxford University Unions.
In 1893, the University of Pennsylvania Trustees decided to provide a facility for the social and recreational use of students. Trustee (later Provost) Charles C. Harrison announced a contest for its design, open to students and recent graduates of the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture. Two students, William C. Hays and M. B. Medary, Jr., won the competition. The final design for the building was a combination of the two entries, and was executed by architect and faculty member Frank Miles Day with Hays and Medary listed as associate architects. To finance the project, Harrison secured a donation of $100,000 from the Trustee Henry Howard Houston and his wife Sallie S. Houston. The Hall was named as a memorial for the son of its principal benefactors, Henry Howard Houston, Jr., (University of Pennsylvania class of 1878) who died in Rome within a year of his graduation. The cornerstone of the building was laid on January 22 1894, and Houston Hall was dedicated January 2 1896.
The original Houston Hall contained a bowling alley, swimming pool, music room, gymnasium, theater, and a billiards room as well as lounge and reception areas. Before the opening of the building itself, a "Houston Club" was formed, allowing membership to any male student and charging yearly dues of two dollars. These dues were then applied to the operation of the facilities. Bennett Hall, a version of Houston Hall exclusively for women, was built in 1926.
Houston Hall has undergone several renovations throughout its history, first in 1936 by Robert Rhodes McGoodwim, and again by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (an architectural firm led by Penn graduates Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown) in 2000.