Long before I heard of Thursday Doors, I wanted to do a post about this magnificent building. Then, I felt a strong urge to include the Cathedral in a few Thursday Doors posts. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right photos for either post, so I kept putting it off until the next trip to Pittsburgh. Faith and I visited in November, Faith brought her camera, mission accomplished. So for today, a little background on the Cathedral and how it relates to me. Then, on Thursday, a few doors.
I attended the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Business in 1976-77. I’ve written about that education before. The only important thing today is that The Graduate School of Business was spread across 5-6 floors of the Cathedral of Learning.
They broke ground for the Cathedral in 1926, and it was dedicated in 1937, although classes were being held as early as 1931. It’s a steel frame building, with a limestone skin in a gothic style. It’s located in the heart of the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. It rises 44 floors, high enough to be seen from PNC Park or Heinz Field. It has held and lost records for height, in the city and around the world. Today, it remains the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere. A little family tidbit, my great-grandfather was a foreman during construction.
The business classrooms were nothing special. Being 18-24 stories up in the air was a source of distraction, especially for someone whose mind was known to wander. It was a larger distraction during accounting and finance classes, when my mind couldn’t wander fast or far enough away from debits and credits, P&Ls and Balance Sheets and losing points for being willing to accept “close enough” as an answer on my homework. While the professor droned on about inventory and accruals and LIFO and FIFO, I found the Pittsburgh skyline compelling.
The real joy of the Cathedral was found between classes. I was a commuter student, so when I had an hour or two between classes, I had to find a place to study on campus. I didn’t have to go far.
The first three floors of the Cathedral of Learning are built around The Commons. The Commons has a medieval feel. Sitting there is like going back in time. Unlike the other areas of the building, the Commons is actually a gothic room. The large true arches channel their weight through the stone columns. There are desks and tables on the main floor of the Commons and tucked into every nook and cranny. There are fireplaces which are often in use. In addition, if the Commons is crowded, the second and third floor have study carrels along the wall overlooking the main floor.
Keep in mind, 1976 was before personal computers, before laptops and way before smart phones. Studying involved a book, a notebook and a pen. Studying also required a brain, an attention span and the ability to focus, which was often lacking as I sat in those carrels.
The Cathedral of Learning is the center of Pitt’s urban campus. On the days that I had large breaks between classes, there were many wonderful attractions within Walking distance. Directly across the Forbes Avenue from the large quad on which the Cathedral stands, are the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. With free admission for students, this was another place to spend some down time. A short walk down Forbes Ave. (toward Pittsburgh) is The Original Hot Dog Shop. ‘The O’, is an iconic Oakland restaurant. When I was there, it was always crowded, sometimes with a line out the door. As soon as you got inside, someone would ask for your order. By the time you got to the counter, they handed you your food.
The other significant building near the Cathedral is Heinz Chapel, a non-denominational chapel centered on the same quad as the Cathedral. Dedicated in 1938, Heinz Chapel was a gift from the H.J. Heinz family to the University of Pittsburgh.
One of the cool features of the Cathedral is the collection of Nationality Rooms on the first and third floor. These rooms were designed, constructed and dedicated to the various ethnic groups that played an important role in the history of Western Pennsylvania.
Building these rooms was a time consuming and expensive undertaking, especially considering that the original set of rooms was built during the Depression and the early years of World War II. A virtual tour of these rooms is available online. I will be providing one here, over the course of several posts, beginning in January.
I know, I’ve teased you a lot today, but unless I tried to make you read 4,000 – 6,000 words, I couldn’t work everything into one post. We’ll return to campus and Cathy (that was our nickname for the Cathedral) on Thursday. Today’s gallery should give you a feel for what it was like to be a student in this magnificent building.