The Secret Rooms at Pitt's Cathedral of Learning

Location: The Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

Featured guest: Michael Walter, tour coordinator at the Nationality Rooms

3 things that surprised me:

  1. There are 31 Nationality Rooms and each one was created by a committee, generally made up of folks from that country or region. During the day, most of these rooms are used as classrooms for University of Pittsburgh classes.
  2. Two of the rooms we visited on our tour had been moved to Oakland from other locations. The Croghan-Schenley Ballroom was originally part of a mansion in Stanton Heights that was demolished in 1945 to make room for a housing project. Then university chancellor, John Bowman, was offered the historic Greek-Revival room and made space for it on the first floor of the Cathedral of Learning. The Syria-Lebanon Room was originally the front room of a home in Damascus in the eighteenth century. It was also displayed in a gallery in New York before it was rebuilt in its current location.
  3. The Early American Room is the only two-story room of the bunch. It was a gift from George Hubbard Clapp, a president of Pitt’s board of trustees at Pitt, and he wanted it to replicate a colonial house in Massachusetts. The room’s architect noticed that many colonial houses had low ceilings and a small bedroom on an upper floor so that’s exactly what he created in the space. Access to the upper floor is through a hidden doorway that leads to a stairwell behind the fireplace.

One thing that didn’t make the final cut: Michael explained that the walls of the Syria-Lebanon Room are covered in gesso but it’s not the gesso that’s familiar to painters today. This gesso was made of paste and hair and was applied in thick layers to create a dimensional surface that almost looks like hammered metal.

Additional info: If you want to take a tour of the Nationality Rooms, you can register for one online.

Want more Yinzer Backstage Pass? Check out our visit to the offices of Schell Games where we discover piles of bouncy balls, tons of VR headsets and closets full of board games.