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The Move of Academic Hall’s 100th Anniversary

By Zoey Angelucci

Point Park Junior College 1967. Submitted by Phill Harrity, Point Park University.
Woodwell Building on the left during a flood. Photo submitted by Chris Hill, Point Park University.
Woodwell Building. Submitted by Phill Harrity, Point Park University.
Academic Hall pre-2001 renovation via Chris Hill

Academic Hall Lobby pre-2001 renovation via Chris Hill

Frank Smith played Pokémon Go with a group of friends often in the fall of 2019. For the new Point Park students, it became just a fun way to discover the city around their campus.

To his surprise, the university’s Academic Hall was listed as a Pokéstop on the game. It included a fact that the building was moved 40 feet in 1921.

Smith’s friend group argued about whether it was indeed true. He immediately did a deep Google search and discovered that it is. While researching, he found the building originally started out as a hardware store, titled the Joseph Woodwell Hardware Company.

The building was the only one completely spared in the 1921 expansion of Second Avenue into the current-day Boulevard of the Allies. After 100 years of rich history, the building now serves as one of the academic buildings for the university.

“So although Academic Hall may not be the oldest or best looking [of all Point Park’s buildings],” said Phill Harrity, Point Park University’s access service and archival coordinator and digital image manager, “it actually has the most unique history.”

The building started out as one of the first hardware stores in the city in 1847. According to HistoricPittsburgh.org, Joseph Woodwell, a successful businessman, founded the Joseph Woodwell Hardware Company in his four-story house on Wood Street and Second Avenue.

Woodwell realized the business was quickly outgrowing the building so he demolished it and built a warehouse on the same site in 1858. After Joseph Woodwell’s death in 1899, his sons and grandsons took over the family business. A few years later in 1907, the company decided to once again replace the building with an eight-story steel-framed building.

After years of successful businesses locating in its downtown area, the city of Pittsburgh decided to expand Second Avenue to solve the increased traffic flow problem from the downtown area to the city’s eastern neighborhoods in 1921.

According to Harrity, the Woodwell family decided to move the 4,000-ton building 40 feet instead of tearing it down. With dimensions of 80 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 134 feet high, the building was a challenge to move.

The John Eichleay Jr. Company was the only bidder on the job, according to “The House Movers,” a self-published work by John W. Eichleay, the owner.

Starting in February 1921, 60 men prepped the building for the upcoming move needed to continue the expansion. They began using the standard procedures of excavating around the foundation and placing lifting beams.

They also built a special lifting frame of steel and a weight-spreading concrete mat, Eichleay wrote in “The House Movers.” “They were necessary because of its small footprint and great weight,” he wrote.

Two months later, 26 men began the move in April 1921. They used almost 1,000 screw jacks to raise the structure and suspend the sidewalk 15 inches.

“A steam winch, initially assisted by 12 horizontally placed jacks, provided the lateral force to move the structure 40 feet northward on Wood Street and position it on its new foundations,” Eichleay wrote.

As the building was being moved, office workers within it went about their daily work lives in the building and had access to all utilities including elevators. The work crew successfully completed the move in a few days allowing the expansion of Boulevard of the Allies.

The Pittsburgh Press reported thousands of spectators witnessed this move and characterized it as the greatest engineering feat in Pittsburgh’s history, according to “The House Movers.”

Constructing the road into what it is now was a massive task beginning in 1920, according to Brookline Connection, a website dedicated to Pittsburgh history. To complete the whole expansion from Gateway Center to Schenley Park took 20 years. The entire project was completed in 1940.

The expansion cost $1.3 million per mile. At the time, it was the most expensive road in the world. Parts of the original Second Avenue were renamed as Boulevard of the Allies to honor the Allies in World War II.

The newly moved building continued to be used as the Joseph Woodwell Hardware Company up until 1957 when the Business Training College purchased it. According to Point Park’s website, the Business Training College was founded in 1933 by Dorothy and Herbert Finkelhor. When they purchased the old Woodwell building, this became their fifth and final location.

Three years later, the training college turned into a two-year training school known as Point Park Junior College, and Academic Hall was its first building. After adding engineering technology, education, journalism programs, and performing arts spaces, the college was granted a four-year status becoming Point Park College in 1960. The college achieved its university status in 2003.

Academic Hall was renovated with an eight-story addition, known as Thayer Hall, and put into service in 1967. It was once again renovated in 1972. The lobby and facade on the first and second floors were renovated in 2001, according to Point Park University building data.

Because of the building’s age, making newer designs and concepts work creates challenges because it was not originally designed for the modern world. Despite this, Chris Hill, Point Park’s vice president of operations who is in charge of the physical plant, assures the continual, sufficient and safe status of the building.

“The building is in great shape for its age because of an aggressive preventative maintenance program we have in place for the buildings,” Hill said.

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