The Cathedral of Learning’s dirt nearly had its finest moment.
After clinging to the 42-story University of Pittsburgh building for 70 years, the black soot almost received its own plaque to recognize evidence of the city’s industrial past.
“Somebody has to honor those people who made the city,” said E. Maxine Bruhns, director of the cathedral’s Nationality Rooms, who came up with the idea. “These grimy stones were a perfect tribute.”
University officials agreed to keep a few blocks dirty near the Fifth Avenue entrance when they spent $4.8 million this summer to wash the Indiana limestone exterior, fix mortar joints and replace rusty fasteners. The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation planned a marker.
“The new generation of students attending Pitt have no idea this city was the workshop to the world,” said Louise Sturgess, the foundation’s executive director. “The dirt visually lets people know what the air was like, and the air was filled with the gritty soot from all of the industry.”
Bruhns hand-picked the blocks for their markings and high-profile location. Workers built a cover so the area wouldn’t be cleaned, and the school newspaper reported in June that a crew member was assigned to protect it.
But after most of the building had been cleaned and the cover removed, another worker noticed the blemish. Without asking, he washed away the grime — so the blocks look as fresh and bright as the rest.
Overall, the cleaning project turned out better than anyone expected, said Park Rankin, the university architect. It was just an oversight that Bruhns’ blocks were washed, he said.
Still, the damage has been done — or undone.
Standing near the spot Wednesday, Paul Sawyer, 24, a junior from Whitehall, said he forgot all about the formerly dirty facade when he returned to campus this month.
“I didn’t even notice,” he said.