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A visit to the Cathedral of Learning. September 3, 2009

Posted by krbradford in National Register of Historic Places.

Cathedral of Learning

Dear Reader,

I had intended to visit all the historic sites on my list in alphabetical order, but my boyfriend and I found ourselves looking for something to do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon last weekend.  High on our list of sightseeing tasks in Pittsburgh was a tour of the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning – and seeing as how the Cathedral is on my list anyway, I figured it couldn’t hurt to go a little out of order. 🙂

I’ve been to the Cathedral, as it’s known here in Pittsburgh, countless times, as I have taken university courses here on several different occasions. It’s part of the University of Pittsburgh campus, and it’s famous for being the second-tallest university building in the world (42 stories, or 535 feet tall). It was started in 1926 and finally completed in 1937, and local lore states that the beautiful Gothic-style Commons Room on the ground floor was the last area of the building to be completed. I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of that info, but this photo seems to show it might be true.

Truthfully, when I moved to Pittsburgh, I found the Cathedral to be an eyesore. It’s much taller than the buildings around it, and I’m still not sure that such a tall, lean building lends itself to Gothic-style architecture. The building was created to form a happy marriage between beautiful Gothic architecture and the modern skyscraper. Whether it has done that successfully or no, I can’t say, but you can’t deny it’s an impressive building.

Ukrainian Heritage RoomYou certainly can’t deny the coolness of  the Nationality Rooms, either. There are currently 27 rooms, with 8 proposed additional rooms. They are museum-quality representations of the typical architecture, furnishings, and decor of the nation they represent. Each room took anywhere from 3 to 10 years to complete, were created by a colloboration of skilled artisans and architects from their respective nations, and many of the materials came from the native area – in some cases, the entire room was built overseas and shipped in pieces to Pittsburgh.

Even cooler still, 25 of the 27 rooms are functional classrooms, used every day by professors and students for university courses. As a student, you can often stroll down the hallway and peek into a room and see the beautiful decor of Norway or Japan. Anyone can tour the rooms every day for only 3 dollars, which I think is amazing, since each room cost about 300,000 of today’s dollars during the height of the Great Depression. They are rife with beauty, quality, and history, and I think the tour is a real gem in Pittsburgh that is often overlooked.Greek Heritage Room

If you’re far away from Pittsburgh, you can take a virtual tour here, complete with 360 panorama views, audiorecordings and representative music – but it doesn’t beat a real visit, where you can linger and admire details for only 3 dollars.

You can also enjoy a slideshow of the 211 (!!!!) photos I took during my visit to the Cathedral, the Nationality Rooms, and Panther Hollow Lake – which I’ll talk to you about tomorrow. Be sure to click “Show Info” to read detailed captions about many of the photos.

Flickr Slideshow Tour of the Nationality Rooms

With love,




1. Bonnie Jeanne - September 3, 2009

Lovely! The Cathedral was one of the first places I visited when I first moved to Pittsburgh. I rather like the odd gothic tower in otherwise mundane Oakland.

Just in case you haven’t seen it, WQED’s OnQ has a piece on Panther Hollow at http://www.wqed.org/ondemand/onq.php?cat=&id=450&search=panther

2. Frick Park Part 1: The beautiful benefactress. « SiteSee Pittsburgh - September 29, 2009

[…] It was no secret that Helen was her father’s favorite, and when he died in 1919 when she was 31, Helen inherited $38 million, making her the richest single woman in the US. Helen, who was beautiful but well-known for having a feisty temperament, chose to remain unmarried. Instead, she became Western Pennsylvania’s leading benefactress. She was passionate about art and an avid collector of artwork, so she established the University of Pittsburgh Fine Arts Department, two art history libraries, and acquired numerous major works of art which now comprise the Frick Collection in New York and the Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh. Her other contributions include: a vacation home for young female textile workers, two wildlife preserves, a public wilderness park in Pittsburgh called Frick Park, and Clayton, the Frick family home in Pittsburgh which now serves as a Victorian-era house museum (which I just toured today…details forthcoming). If you follow my blog, you’ll also be interested to learn that she donated the land for the Cathedral of Learning. […]

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