Cathedral of Learning to Be Featured April 16 on Travel Channel’s Made In America

Issue Date: 
April 14, 2008


The Cathedral of Learning, the University of Pittsburgh’s renowned and architecturally stunning landmark, will be featured at 9:30 p.m. April 16 on the Travel Channel’s John Ratzenberger’s Made In America program. This season of the program will feature behind-the-scenes tours of some of the country’s most fascinating American-made wonders, including the Cathedral of Learning.

In November, a Travel Channel crew filmed the interior and exterior of the Cathedral. Led by E. Maxine Bruhns, director of Pitt’s Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs, the film crew toured the Cathedral’s nooks and crannies and more than a dozen of the Cathedral’s 26 Nationality Rooms. The crew also took footage of American master artisan Samuel Yellin’s iron gates in the Commons Room and ventured to the 40th floor’s Babcock Room to see peregrine falcons Erie and Dorothy, who nested on a ledge outside a window. (Erie has since been replaced by another male falcon, and his whereabouts are unknown.)

Also interviewed for the segment was Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, who explained to Ratzenberger how the Cathedral owes its existence to the vision and persistence of the late John G. Bowman, Pitt’s chancellor from 1921 to 1945. Bowman is credited with saying of the Cathedral, “They shall find wisdom here and faith—in steel and stone, in character and thought—they shall find beauty, adventure, and moments of high victory.”

To fund the cost of the 1924-37 construction project, a $10 million public fundraising campaign was launched. More than 97,000 schoolchildren each contributed a dime in exchange for a certificate testifying that they were “Builders of the Cathedral of Learning.” That campaign is considered to have been one of the first modern fundraising drives.

Alice Sapienza Donnelly, an 87-year-old surviving “builder” with longstanding connections to Pitt, told the Travel Channel host how she gave a dime at the age of 7 or 8 years. Sapienza Donnelly earned her B.A. degree in English literature in 1974 and the M.A. degree in communication in 1983, both at the University of Pittsburgh. She also taught public speaking and parliamentary rhetoric at Pitt in the evenings for 28 years.

For a history lesson on the architecture of the symbolic structure, Ratzenberger interviewed University Architect Park Rankin. Designed by Philadelphia architect Charles Zeller Klauder, the Cathedral was the world’s tallest educational building at the time it was built—now surpassed only by the tower of Russia’s Moscow State University. The Cathedral was designated a National Landmark by the National Park Service on Nov. 3, 1975, and designated by the Pittsburgh City Council as a Historic Structure on Feb. 22, 1977.

A profile of the Cathedral wouldn’t be complete without highlighting the recently completed $4.8 million exterior preservation project, which Nordenberg discussed with the television host. As part of the project, years of soot and grime were removed from the 42-story, 535-foot Gothic Revival tower. Video footage also was shot of the courtyard where several stones remain uncleaned—preserving the history of the steeltown’s effect on the city of Pittsburgh’s most visible landmark.