As the university enrollment grew in the 1920 and 1930s, the main campus cafeteria in Swain Hall could not keep up with demand. Lenoir Hall was built using Public Works Administration funds during a boom in campus construction in the late 1930s. When the new dining hall opened in January 1940, it was able to seat more than 1,000 students at a time and serve as many as 10,000 meals a day. According to the Daily Tar Heel it was the largest cafeteria of its kind in the country. Lenoir has always been a dining hall but has undergone frequent changes over the years, with significant renovations in 1984, 1997, and 2011.
The most dramatic period in Lenoir Hall's history came in 1969, following a strike by cafeteria workers who were advocating for better wages, back pay, and improved working conditions. After demonstrations led by students in the Black Student Movement drew the attention of Governor Bob Scott, the governor ordered highway patrol troops to campus to assure that Lenoir could open and operate peacefully. There were no documented clashes between students and the highway patrol, but the sight of uniformed guards lining the walkway to Lenoir was one that the university community would not soon forget.
The building is named for William Lenoir, the first chairman of the UNC Board of Trustees. A native of Virginia, Lenoir spend most of his life in North Carolina, working as an educator in eastern North Carolina and later as a surveyor in the western part of the state, near the town that now bears his name. He served in the Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of general. He was a slave owner and a member of the state legislature, where he joined the committee that would become the first board of trustees of the university.
Date Established: 1938
Date Range: 1938 – Present