Heinz Memorial Chapel: A Historic Marvel in Pittsburgh
Located in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh and on the University of Pittsburgh Campus, the Heinz Memorial Chapel stands as a towering symbol of architectural beauty and historical significance. This French Gothic Revival styled structure, part of the Schenley Farms Historic District, is a testament to the rich history of Pittsburgh and its people.
A Historic Landmark
Constructed between 1933 and 1938, the Heinz Memorial Chapel has been designated as a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Historic Landmark, and is a contributing property to the Schenley Farms National Historic District. The chapel’s location, at the intersection of 5th Ave and S Bellefield Ave, is a bustling hub of the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.
The Heinz Legacy
Henry John Heinz, the German-American founder of the renowned H.J. Heinz Company, initially conceived the idea of the chapel as a tribute to his mother, Anna Margaretha Heinz. Following his death in 1919, Heinz’s surviving children, Howard, Irene, and Clifford, furthered his vision, choosing to honor their grandmother and father through the creation of the chapel.
The Birth of the Chapel
The idea of the chapel was nurtured and brought to life by a passionate team including Howard Heinz, Chancellor John Gabbert Bowman, and Joh Weber, the business manager and university secretary. They were joined by other members of the Heinz family and esteemed clergymen like Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr, pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, and Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin, president of Union Theological Seminary.
The chapel’s construction began in 1933, and its cornerstone was laid the following year. On November 20, 1938, the chapel was dedicated. Howard Heinz, during the event, described the chapel’s significance:
“It is located in a community where my father was born and lived his life. It is on the campus of a university. As part of that university, it is dedicated to culture, understanding response to beauty, and religious worship.”
A Timeline of Significant Events
Over the years, the Heinz Memorial Chapel has witnessed numerous historical events and milestones. In 1914, the Pittsburgh Gazette Times announced Henry John Heinz’s generous gift of $100,000 to construct a building dedicated to his mother. The chapel’s groundbreaking took place on August 15, 1933.
The chapel was officially dedicated on November 20, 1938, marking a significant milestone in its history. The first student service was held in the chapel on November 23, 1938, a Thanksgiving Day service held a day early. In 1992, the chapel served as a filming location for the movie Lorenzo’s Oil.
A Multitude of Uses
The Heinz Memorial Chapel, while interdenominational by design, hosts various religious services. The chapel is open daily throughout the year, excluding University holidays. Each year, it is the venue for around 1,500 events, ranging from religious services and weddings to concerts, classes, memorial services, and guided tours.
In a testament to the chapel’s versatility and importance within the community, it hosts between 170 and 190 weddings annually. These weddings are exclusive to affiliates of the University of Pittsburgh and Heinz employees. In addition to these events, the chapel also serves as the home of the Heinz Chapel Choir.
The brilliance of Charles Klauder, who also designed the Cathedral of Learning and the Stephen Foster Memorial on Pitt’s campus, is evident in the neo-Gothic style of Heinz Memorial Chapel. The chapel’s design showcases a modified cruciform plan, stone vaults, high ceilings, repeated arches, and extensive use of glass.
The chapel’s walls, both inside and outside, are made of Indiana Limestone. Interestingly, Klauder passed away just weeks before the chapel’s dedication. In 1996, to make the chapel accessible to those with physical disabilities, a $1.3 million elevator housing was added.
The Heinz Memorial Chapel is renowned for its intricate stonework and detailed woodwork. The chapel’s wall carvings were created by master stoneworker Joseph Gattoni of New York and follow the Gothic tradition of pictorial instruction.
All visible wood in the chapel is oak, including its entrance doors, each weighing 800 pounds. The ironwork in the chapel, including lanterns, door fittings, stair railings, altar cross, and candlesticks, were crafted by Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia.
The Stained Glass Windows
Perhaps the most striking feature of the chapel is its stained glass windows. Designed by Charles Connick and created at his Boston studio, the chapel’s 23 windows cover approximately 4,000 square feet and contain nearly 250,000 pieces of glass.
The Heinz Memorial Chapel is also home to a magnificent organ. The original instrument, a four-manual Aeolian Skinner pipe organ with 3,770 pipes, began construction in Boston in 1934. Over the years, the organ underwent several updates, with the renovated Reuter instrument dedicated in concert on September 24, 1995.
The Heinz Memorial Chapel is more than just a building. It’s a testament to the enduring legacy of the Heinz family, a symbol of Pittsburgh’s rich history, and an architectural marvel that continues to inspire awe and reverence.