Secrets of the Cathedral: From 38 on down
The Cathedral’s steel frame structure is overlaid with Indiana limestone carved with Gothic ornamentation at each corner of the tower and stone window tracery terminating at the alternately rising ledges. The building includes more than 2,000 rooms and 2,500 windows — and a host of little-known features, including:
• 38th floor — This floor is one large room humming from the elevator cable machinery that was installed only a few years ago when the elevators were upgraded. It also boasts a revamped central air conditioning system, which was installed at the same time. “This floor was one of the first to be air conditioned, going way back, one of the very few in the whole building, because of the sensitive nature of the equipment that needed to be monitored,” Pitt building engineer Dom Fagnelli said.
Floor 38 is one of three floors that houses brand new chilled water tanks. Chilled water is pumped up to the 38th floor from the 24th floor relay pump into 20,000 gallon tanks; from there, the water is fed down to service the 25th-37th floors, Fagnelli said. “There’s just no way to get city water pressure up here.”
Similarly, new chilled water tanks on the 24th and 14th floors service the floors below them.
The chilled water pipes are an integral part of a recently completed power shaft, or “utilities spine,” that runs all the way up the Cathedral to floor 38. This shaft contains data cables and pipes carrying water for emergency sprinklers, and will enable Pitt to more efficiently install floor-specific central air conditioning and to service electrical problems.
While installation of the spine produced many disruptions, newcomers to the Cathedral would be hard pressed to find evidence of the shaft, which resides mostly in unobtrusive closets.
• 35th and 36th floors — Renovations completed this summer to the Honors College have created a two-story arched window that’s visible from miles around at night.
The renovations feature a four-leaf medieval quatrefoil motif — in nautical terms, a compass rose — ideal for the Cathedral, which sits at a near-perfect 45 degrees to the four directions of the compass.
The motif is repeated in the 1st floor’s stone masonry, as well as in the small iron fences that separate the 1st floor corridors from the Commons Room.
• 20th floor — Now a conference room for the School of Social Work, room 2017 still has wood- and glass-enclosed chemical storage areas imbedded in its wall, a remnant of when the room was a science lab.
• 16th floor — From the 16th floor windows, you can look out on the top of rooms 1409 and 1420, two rooms with two-story high ceilings.
On a narrow pathway to the 16th floor outer ledge, theatre arts types have scrawled their names and other messages on the wall, a tradition usually reserved for backstage areas.
• 12th floor — According to Fagnelli, Eva Brosius, then-University Senate secretary, used to grow tomato plants on the ledge accessible from room 1212’s office window. “I used to go out and help her water them when she was getting older,” he said.
• 5th floor — Pitt’s original lending library check-out desk, from the days when the main library was in the Cathedral, still rests in the same spot in what is now an English department office, room 501.
• 4th floor — Locked away behind inconspicuous maintenance doors, one in the 4th floor men’s room, is the rounded internal “roof” of the Commons Room. Essentially, then, the Commons Room roof continues up into the center of the 4th floor, hidden behind the elevators.
Three unsigned, undated mounted murals, apparently depicting classic Renaissance painting styles, hang incongruously in a hallway outside remodeled College of General Studies (CGS) staff offices. The history of the paintings, each about 7 feet by 3 feet and glass-encased, is shrouded in mystery, at least to the 4th floor’s current occupants.
“I don’t think anybody knows the true origin. I’ve worked here at Pitt for 32 years, and they’ve been here longer than that,” said Sherry Miller Brown, director of CGS’s McCarl Center.
• 3rd floor — A locked room directly above the Samuel Yellen wrought-iron gate, near the lower-floor elevators, houses a pipe organ, no longer in use. According to nationality rooms director Maxine Bruhns, the organ was played for many years at the annual holiday open house and other special events.
That room also housed a P.A. system at one time, Fagnelli said. “When I got here (in 1967) the equipment was still there but not operational. It was operated in the 3rd floor overhang (where the organ is).”
• 2nd floor — A new elevator for special needs passengers now services the 2nd floor.