Heinz Memorial Chapel, Pittsburgh

4.9
#4 of 13 in Historic Sites in Pittsburgh
Late in his life and early in the twentieth century, the building known today as Heinz Memorial Chapel began in the mind of Henry J. Heinz. The first-born son of German immigrant parents, his youngest years were spent in Birmingham, now part of Pittsburgh’s South Side, before the family relocated to Sharpsburg. In looking back at his life, the man who was known as Harry in his youth felt that the moral and ethical lessons received from his mother, Anna Margaretta Heinz, profoundly shaped his adult life. With a sincere desire to influence others in the same way, Heinz inserted a provision in his will that a bequest be made to the University of Pittsburgh for a building to be built in honor of his mother. The wording of the bequest was spare, stating nothing of what the structure should look like. Only its purpose, for religious training and social activities was addressed.

Raised in the German Evangelical Protestant Church, later going with his mother to the Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg while a formal member of the Methodist Protestant Church, then joining East Liberty Presbyterian Church near the end of his life, Henry J. Heinz embodied cross-denominationalism. He was also keenly interested in education. Religious education through Sunday Schools was his main focus, but he placed high value on secular education. In fact, he was the first of the Heinz family to hold public office, long before great-grandson and namesake, the late Senator John Heinz, being elected to the Sharpsburg public school board.

A combined interest in religion and education led H. J. Heinz to have a building erected on the University’s new campus in Oakland, shortly after its 1908 relocation from its former site above the North Side. A very simple wooden structure, seemingly out of place among its neighboring masonry structures, its intent was the same as the stated purpose of the building mentioned in his bequest. Perhaps he had it built of wood because in his mind it was a temporary building, to be replaced by something more substantial later. He had no idea how temporary it would be, since it caught fire and burned to the ground about a year later. Never one to give up, H. J. Heinz had the building re-built. Both structures were simply known as the Heinz House and in spirit they were the predecessors of today’s Chapel.

Heinz Memorial Chapel, as it exists today, came about when the executors of H. J. Heinz’s estate, his two surviving sons, Howard and Clifford, their brother-in-law, John Given, joined by their sister, Irene Heinz Given, met with Chancellor John G. Bowman to discuss the bequest. The newly installed head of the University of Pittsburgh had a vision for the small private institution already formed in his mind when he met with the Heinz family delegation. It was his notion to create a “skyscraper university” that would take advantage of modern construction methods, but be cloaked in a 700 year-old architectural style that, to him, symbolized a Western European intellectual tradition that went back to the Middle Ages.

This “skyscraper university” became linked with the nickname, Cathedral of Learning, by which it is known to this day. Heinz Memorial Chapel was designed by the same Philadelphia architect, Charles Klauder, to be a companion building to it and the Stephen Foster Memorial. Groundbreaking for the Chapel was held in August 1933 and foundation work immediately began. By the following August, ninety-five percent of the limestone walls were up. This was a major building project done during the depths of the Great Depression. The Chapel was completed by the fall of 1938 and dedicated that November, being in continuous use since then.
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Heinz Memorial Chapel Reviews
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TripAdvisor Traveler Rating 4.5
245 reviews
Google
4.9
TripAdvisor
  • Don't let Pittsburgh's current reputation fool you...it was once the home to families such as the Carnegies, the Fricks, the Phipps, the Melons, the Boggs and Buhls...and the Heinz. This memorial chap...  more »
  • We took a group of colleagues from the Netherlands on a quick tour after lunch. The chapel is beautiful. The guide gave us a quick tour and “played” the organ for up. This chapel manages to be grand a...  more »
Google
  • The venue speaks for itself! I graduated from Pitt, so it was so special to have our wedding here! Most of our guests were from out of town and had never been to Pittsburgh and they were blown away by how beautiful the chapel was! I planned the entire wedding myself from California, where I now live. The staff made it so easy and were so well-organized. They stick to a strict time schedule and were very professional. Corinne was our coordinator and she was awesome to work with! She listed to all of our ideas and helped make sure everything ran smoothly during the rehearsal and on the day of the wedding. The organ music was incredible too! I really cannot say enough great things and couldn't be happier! What an awesome memory to be married in such a beautiful place!
  • The non-denominational chapel is gorgeous. We were recently married here and the docents are so wonderful and helpful especially Sharon and Corinne. The stained glass is beautiful and just wait till you hear the organ!

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