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Brentwood’s Point View won’t be saved – Final OK Given to Tear It Down

Pittsburgh Post GazetteBy Erin Gibson Allen
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Point View Hotel on Brownsville Road in Brentwood is believed by local historians to have been a likely stop for slaves hoping to escape to Canada on the Underground Railroad.

At its July 24 meeting, Brentwood council gave final approval to demolish the historic hotel. Brentwood Medical Group, which now owns the hotel, plans to build a three-story medical building on the site.

Louise Sturgess, of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, said there are few buildings in Pittsburgh that are as old as the Point View Hotel.

“Based on documents the foundation has seen, we believe the building did serve as a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 1850s.” Estimates of the construction date are as early as 1832.

The foundation included the hotel in its book, “A Legacy in Bricks & Mortar, African-American Landmarks in Allegheny County.”

Samuel Black, the curator for African American history exhibits at the Senator John Heinz History Center, agreed that the Point View Hotel is an historic site, although it was never officially designated. He regrets the pending loss of the building not only for its historical significance, but also for its potential to serve as a tool for teaching about the antebellum era.

“It is an important asset that places the community in American history,” he said.

Sarah Martin, a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and self-described Underground Railroad buff, has for years given tours to area children of Pittsburgh locations believed to have served as safe houses for fleeing slaves.

Of visiting the Point View she said: “Over the years not much was done to the basement. I got chills standing on the dirt floor. My hair stood on end. It was a very moving experience.”

Pittsburgh was a strong force in helping slaves escape to Canada, she said.

“African Americans in Pittsburgh were more active than in a lot of other places,” Ms. Martin said. She believes that because many African Americans in Pittsburgh were business owners at the time, a slave could easily disappear by finding a sympathetic person with access to places to hide.

In recent times, Point View has been used as a bar and restaurant, although historically it was an inn. Famous Americans who allegedly stopped at the inn include Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and James Buchanan.

Keith Andreyko, an architect with Integrity Design, the firm responsible for design of the new building to be erected on the site, said that he had not toured much of the hotel himself because he thinks it is unsafe.

Several historical sites in the area have been lost over the past 15 years because they were not kept in their original condition, Mr. Black said.

Dr. Scott Carnivale, president of Brentwood Medical, said, “It’s sad for a building of that age to be demolished. I recognize that it’s a loss for the community.”

Although it initially hoped that the building could be kept intact, once the History & Landmarks Foundation determined that it could not be saved, its strategy was to stay in contact with Brentwood council and the developers. The foundation hopes to be granted a final tour of the historic site.

Ms. Sturgess, Mr. Black, and Ms. Martin each said that honoring the building’s place in history is important and hope that a permanent plaque describing the hotel’s role in the Underground Railroad can be installed somewhere on the site.

Both Dr. Carnivale and Mr. Andreyko indicated that they are optimistic that they can arrange a final tour of the building.

Demolition is expected early this fall.

Erin Gibson Allen is a freelance writer.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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