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Teacher wants Point View’s history documented

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBrad Pedersen
Staff Writer, South Hills Record
Trib-Total Media
Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Point View Hotel is all but history, though Sarah Martin, a teacher from the city’s Knoxville neighborhood, hopes to help document what happened in the building before it is torn down.

“Saving the Point View is moot,” said Martin. “It’s going to be torn down and there’s not much chance of saving the physical facility. What I’d like to do is document it as carefully and well as possible before it is demolished.”

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.

The medical group was recently granted a zoning variance, allowing them to build a three-story facility in the area zoned for two-story structures. According to Ralph Costa, Brentwood building inspector, without the variance, Brentwood Medical Group would have had to build an expanded two-story building, which they feared would impact parking space around the facility.

Martin has been taking groups of students throughout the city on hikes of documented Underground Railroad routes for the past 15 years. She has been coming to Brentwood for the past eight years.

According to Martin, Brentwood, the Hill District, North Side and Mount Washington have the most credible evidence of Underground Railroad activity.

“Those four areas of the city I’ve done for a long time,” said Martin. “I’m very much interested in hiking and walking and children and history, so it all comes together for me.”

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.

The hotel boasted eight modest rooms and the most famous was referred to as the President’s Room. Prior to their presidencies, Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan and Zachary Taylor stayed in the room. It is also 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.

“I’m going to hold their feet to the fire,” said Martin.

Martin has contacted the Brentwood Medical Group and feels that they are willing to work with her efforts in documenting the site, whether it be allowing her to take photographs of the inside or displaying a plaque.

According to Martin, Brentwood Medical Group representatives told her that they are looking into allowing her access to the building. The group has not given Martin a definite answer, though she is optimistic about the project.

Along with photographs and a plaque, Martin is also hoping to bring an archaeologist to the Point View, either before or during its demolition. She hopes to verify the age of the columns in the basement.

“It is a part of our history that needs to be reconciled and shared,” said Martin. “History usually just talks about the institution and what happened. All the small people along the way did things, it gives us perspective and balance and helps us to understand that not everybody is on the same issue and page.

“It’s an opportunity to get to know and revisit that, to know that there were people there to help runaway slaves and they were not all in favor of institutional slavery. It helps us see both sides of people and help us understand how we got through that period, even prior to the civil war.”

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 prevented the Point View from achieving a historical landmark designation. A high cost to restore the Point View to its original state has kept previous owners from earning the designation.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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