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Brentwood landmark slated for demolition

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBrad Pedersen
Staff Writer, South Hills Record
Trib-Total Media
Thursday, March 15, 2007

British comedian Eddie Izzard once said that Americans “love to tear your history down,” and Brentwood Medical Group seems to be following suit as it prepares to tear down Brentwood’s Point View Hotel and Restaurant on Brownsville Road.

A three-story medical facility will be built at 3720 Brownsville Road, where the Point View stands, for now. The projected plan is to tear the Point View down to build the facility for Brentwood Medical Group, but demolition has not been scheduled, due to several zoning issues.

“It’s under agreement right now,” said Ralph Costa, Brentwood building inspector. “They came up for a hearing on a height variance on the building, and that was granted. It is contingent upon that. I don’t know where they actually stand at this point.”

According to Costa, without the variance, instead of a three-story building, Brentwood Medical Group would have had to build an expanded two-story building, in accordance with zoning restrictions. The main concern was how it would affect parking at the facility.
Dawn Synborski, zoning and ordinance chair, said the new building could be completed by early 2008.

There are no specifics on when the Point View was built, although most estimate it was built during or before the 1820s along the Brownsville Road carriage route. When it was constructed, it was a part of Baldwin Township, which was broken into several villages, including Point View. Brentwood became a borough in 1915.

Early records show that the original owner was Lucast Dudt, who sold it to the Gartner family. The business was then purchased by Joseph Clendening, who sold it to the Andolina family in 1936.

The Andolina family controlled the Point View until 1976, when they sold it to the Vickless family.

The hotel boasted eight modest rooms and the most famous was referred to as the President’s Room. Prior to their presidencies, three presidents stayed in the room.

While on the campaign trail in the late 1820s, Andrew Jackson stayed at the hotel during a horseback trip from Fort Cumberland to Allegheny City, now known as Pittsburgh.

The hotel had its next presidential visit in the 1840s, approximately 20 years later, when Zachary Taylor stopped at the hotel with a large group of campaign supporters. Like Jackson, he was on his way into the city as a part of his presidential campaign.

President James Buchanan made several trips to the Point View prior to holding the office, according to a 1917 letter written by Birgitta Grad, who copied the information from two earlier newspapers dating back to 1865 and 1871.

Grad said that the picky Buchanan traveled in a “splendid traveling coach,” which he required to be meticulously cleaned at each stop, and always required clean linens.

Although the presidential stays are famous and well noted, the Point View is also famous for having undocumented stops as a part of the Underground Railroad during the 1860s.

The Point View is one of few structures standing that served as an Underground Railroad “station” in Allegheny County, along with the Bingham House in Chatham Village and the Morning Glory Inn, Southside.

In the basement underneath the sitting room was an extensive tunnel system leading from the hotel to the other side of Brownsville Road, which was referred to as Brentwood Farm. There is no documentation on how the system worked, though it is mentioned in Grad’s letter.

Grad wrote that the trapdoor leading into the Point View’s cellar was located under the sitting room in a “blind cellar.”

It is reported that the tunnel system collapsed when the borough widened and lowered Brownsville Road, which used to be level with the Point View.

In her letter, Grad wrote that there was a trapdoor and blind cellar under the sitting room, where slaves from Maryland and Virginia “were hidden for a short time.”

Since the time of the presidential stays and Underground Railroad, the building has gone through several updates, including the addition of the kitchen and bar area, aluminum siding and many other changes. These changes have helped deny the Point View a historical landmark designation. A high cost to restore the Point View to its original state has kept previous owners from earning the designation.

“It’s time consuming and a little bit expensive with all the research that needs to go into it if you are not doing it yourself and use a consultant,” said Frank Stroker, assistant archivist with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. “With all the research and multiple sources and cross reference and quality archival photographing, it can be quite time consuming.”

The historical value of the house kept people like Sarah Martin into Brentwood to visit the Point View.

“The Point View Hotel has been identified as one of the safe houses in this area, along with the Bingham house in Mount Washington, as well as a few others,” said Martin, who works with the Pittsburgh Board of Education. “For many years, the proprietor of the Point View allowed me to bring small groups of administrators and students to see the area in the basement where slaves were reportedly hidden.”

According to Martin, when she returned to schedule her yearly visit, there was a sign on the door with a number, indicating the hotel was for sale. To her dismay, when she called the number, Martin found that USA Housing was in talks with a possible buyer.

“I am sure that many people were involved in the decision to sell this establishment and that the decision to sell was in the best interest of all the parties,” said Martin. “I have nothing to say about that business decision, however knowing the history of the place, I would trust that someone would be willing to discuss how we might be able to document the historical significance of the Point View before it is torn down or renovated.”

Stroker said that he is unaware of any attempts to designate the Point View as a historical landmark.

Although the Point View is not designated as a landmark, it will always be a landmark to borough residents.

“It happened and they are going to expand,” said Lockhart. “There are plans for a medical building. I just heard a couple residents saying it’s a shame that it’s gone.”

But for others, the Point View being torn down is a chance for the borough to move ahead.

“It will be good for the community,” said Costa. “A lot of people hate to see that building being torn down, but it is shot. There’s no saving it.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633