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Hidden history below the Point Park Playhouse

Oakland complex constructed from mixed framework

Photo by Carley Bonk
The basement of the Playhouse still stores much of the old restaurant’s decor. The drawing on the chalkboard is by New York caricature artist Al Hirschfeld, who died at the age of 99 in 2003, according to the Al Hirschfeld Foundation website.

Written By Carley Bonk, Copy Editor

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The current Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland will no longer be a part of Point Park’s campus with the completion of the new Playhouse downtown in 2018, but students and staff alike will remember the unique space that has catered to their needs for so many years.

Point Park University is in the continuous process of expanding campus with the construction of a new Pittsburgh Playhouse and the recent completion of the Center for Media Innovation last fall.

Kim Martin, Producing Director for the Pittsburgh Playhouse, said that though she is nostalgic about the Oakland location, the new playhouse will be better suited for student’s needs.

“Though I will miss this building, one that I used as a student here from 1983-1987, it’s really not suited for our students anymore,” Martin said.

The Playhouse is actually three separate buildings that were connected when Point Park purchased the properties that included: a former German Social Club, the Rockwell Tree of Life Synagogue and a house. The three separate buildings have a lot of history themselves.

“These buildings weren’t meant to be theaters, so we had to make some adjustments over the years,” Martin said.

Walking through the basement and behind stages offer a glimpse into the past. What is now used for theater storage used to house one of Pittsburgh’s most glamorous hot spots, the Pittsburgh Playhouse Restaurant.

“The space held 250 people nearly every night,” Martin said.  “Once the university bought the property in the early 1970s, we were no longer able to hold a liquor license, and it was closed for theater space.”

The remnants of the restaurant remain in the Playhouse basement. Stoves, sinks, tables, chairs, a potato and onion cellar and the original red carpeting can still be found amongst props and costumes.

The space is even said to be haunted by the Lady in White, who roams the theater balconies.

“The stories say she found her husband with another woman, shot them both and then turned the gun on herself,” Martin said.

Students are sad to say goodbye to the Oakland location, but are looking forward to a theater downtown that is better suited to performance.

Sierra Zellmer, a junior musical theater major, said she was conflicted about leaving the place where she’s performed in the past.

“I know the new Playhouse will be a necessary improvement,” Zellmer said.  “With Point Park becoming a more popular school, it was bound to happen eventually because we need the extra space.”

Giuliana Fox, a junior dance major, agreed.

“It’ll be great to have a larger space where we can do more shows,” Fox said. “Hopefully it won’t be too modern.  The one in Oakland has an older style that really compliments the theater.”

With Point Park moving locations, the fate of the current Playhouse is unknown.

“Whoever takes over the place will need to bring things up to [building] code, I really hope that it can be saved,” Martin said.

With Point Park constantly adding new buildings to its home downtown, educational structures are greeted by students with enthusiasm. Sam Fairchild, a junior multimedia major, said that the CMI and Playhouse were great additions to campus.

“Facilities that propel our generation into the job force are so important,” Fairchild said. “It would be great to have buildings for different majors that put them a step ahead other schools.”

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