Pythian Temple Building

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Photo Credit: Photo by William Russel, summer 1949. Courtesy of Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University.

Contributors

The Pythian Temple Building in the Central Business District is a site that is important to the history of New Orleans jazz, but it has been all but forgotten by the city. The Pythian Temple Building was home to a dance hall (the Pythian Roof Garden), spaces for the community, the Temple Theater, and commercial spaces to provide a jumpstart for local businesses. The Pythian Temple Building was a symbol of prosperity and hope in the black community of New Orleans.

The Knights of Pythias

The Knights of Pythias constructed the Pythian Temple in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1909. The Grand Lodge, Colored Order of the Knights of Pythias of Louisiana was created in 1880. The organization at large is "dedicated to the cause of universal peace" by the "promotion of understanding among men." Their principles are friendship, charity and benevolence [1] . The Pythian Temple at 234 Loyola Avenue, near the corner of Loyola Avenue (formerly Saratoga) and Gravier Street, provided space for the fraternity's offices and helped them gain significance in the city.

Architecture

The local architects Diboll, Owen, and Goldstein designed the building. The design included many contemporary elements, such as its steel structure clad with brick, concrete and terracotta. Intricate designs adorn the building on the first floor façade. The punched openings interrupt the brick façade with concrete lintels. The first floor included a banking room, offices and retail spaces that housed many different vendors over the years. The arched windows of second floor hinted at the double height auditorium space within. The other floors in the six story building housed many meeting rooms and offices. The roof had an open air garden that would later become enclosed. The new structure stood tall over the surrounding neighborhood. [2]


Photo by William Russell, Summer 1949. Courtesy of Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Dedication Ceremony

The building opened on August 18, 1909, a year after construction had started. The Knights of Pythias celebrated with a four day dedication ceremony. An article in The Daily Picayune describes the event by saying, "The elaborate ceremonies were conducted in the presence of a very large assembly." The Supreme Chancellor S. W. Green, Dr. I. W. Young, Roscoe Conkling and George F. Bartely all gave speeches to the crowds. A celebrated black lawyer, J. Madison Vance gave the main speech on the topic of the power of organization. The building cost $200,000 and was the "biggest business enterprise ever attempted by the colored race in the United States." [3]

Pythian Roof Garden (1909-1927)

The Pythian Roof Garden opened shortly after the building. The existing roof garden that was designed into the building housed this entertainment and meeting place. The Pythian Roof Garden changed names to the Parisian Roof Garden when the roof was enclosed [4] . The Roof Garden was very popular during the years 1909 to 1927. E. Belfield Spriggins, who wrote a column in the Louisiana Weekly, described the place as "the rendezvous for large crowds of pleasure seekers among all groups. [5] "

August 1923. Courtesy of Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane Univeristy

Music and dancing were some of the main qualities of the Pythian Roof Garden. It hosted many "Saturday evening proms", attended by the most "fashionable members of the social sets. [6] " The Pythian Roof Garden also hosted charity balls along with holiday and themed parties that attracted a wide range of New Orleans society [7] . Perhaps the most attractive feature of this space was the in-house band that played most weekends. The Pythian Orchestra, led by Manuel Perez, provided the music and atmosphere to compliment the "general beauty and convenience of the place. [8] " Papa Celestin's Original Tuxedo Orchestra Band also frequently played at the Pythian Roof Garden [9] .

Piron's Garden of Joy (1927-1940s)

The Pythian Roof Garden closed in 1927 due to financial problems. A. J. Piron bought the space and reopened it under the name Piron's Garden of Joy on August 8, 1927 [10] . He made very few changes, except to include more up to date music that was removed from the classic New Orleans jazz sound. One advertisement shows that Piron's Garden of Joy hosted a bathing suit contest, and other such events [11] . In the 1930's the dance hall began to lose its popularity. This was due to many different reasons, including the decline in popularity and rapid changes of jazz in this period. Also, the Roof Garden refused to sign with the Musician's Union [12] . In the Louisiana Weekly's column "At Moon Time" on August 6, 1932, Earl M. Wright said, "With union bands refusing to appear in the beautiful emporium because of the management's unwillingness to sign on a certain dotted line. [13] " Due to the bankruptcy of the Knights of Pythias of Louisiana, the Pythain Temple was sold in 1941 for the price of $325000 [14] .

The Pythian Temple Enterprises

The Pythian Temple also included many businesses that were important to the community. The building offered leased office spaces to many local businesses. The Peoples Benevolent Industrial Life Insurance Company of Louisiana, the insurance company headed by the Knights of Pythias, was located in the building right after construction. It provided health and life insurance to the Knights of Pythias members. The Negro Board of Trade also had its headquarters in the Pythian Temple for a time. Most importantly, the New Orleans Herald- Louisiana Weekly established itself while leasing office space in this building. The Louisiana Weekly is still running to this day [15] . The Louisiana Weekly's slogan proclaims it as "your source for multicultural news medium. [16] "

The Temple Theater

The auditorium inside the Pythian Temple, the Temple Theater, put on many plays and shows to entertain. It was described as "one of the largest African-American vaudeville theaters in the city. [17] " A large force in the black community, the Pythian Temple is accredited with aiding the creation of the Zulu Mardi Gras Parade. The musical comedy "The Smart Set" played in the temple's theater. The play included an act that mentioned the powerful African King of Zulu. The members that would form the Zulu Social Pleasure and Aid Club and start the first Zulu Mardi Gras Parade were in the crowd. [18]

Current Condition

The Pythian Temple has had many owners of the years and many different name changes. The building has been known as Industries Building, DeMontluzin Building, Civic Center Building, and 2-3-4 Loyola. Currently, the building sits across from the downtown New Orleans Public Library. It is all but unrecognizable from its original 1909 construction. Throughout the years the building has been changed with the addition of multiple floors to the top of the building, in a non-cohesive manner. Also, the building's face is now covered by a contemporary metal and glass façade that covers the original windows. The building is currently abandoned, but work has been done to begin removing the metal and glass façade that covered the original building. Despite the bad condition that the building is in currently, there has been talk of redevelopment. The building may be converted into apartments.


Current condiditon. November 2012.

Works Cited

  • “Knights of Pythias.” Knights of Pythias. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2012.
  • “Pythian Temple Design.” Architecture and It’s Allies 3.9 (1908): 9-14. Web
  • “New Orleans Negroes Lead Their Race in Enterprise.” Daily Picayune [New Orleans] 19 Aug. 1909: n. pag. Print
  • New Orleans Jazz History Walking Tours: Business District/ Back O’ Town. New Orleans: New Orleans Jazz Commission, n.d. Print.
  • Abbott, Lynn. “E. Belfield Spriggins: First Man of Jazzology.” 78 Quarterly 1.10 (1992)
  • Abbott, Lynn. “E. Belfield Spriggins: First Man of Jazzology.” 78 Quarterly 1.10 (1992)
  • Wright, Earl M. “At Moon Time.” Louisiana Weekly [New Orleans] 27 Aug. 1932
  • Abbott, Lynn. “E. Belfield Spriggins: First Man of Jazzology.” 78 Quarterly 1.10 (1992)
  • Kimbal, Jeanette. Interview by William Russell Tulane University Hogan Jazz Archive. New Orleans, Louisiana, 10 Feb. 1962
  • Abbott, Lynn. “E. Belfield Spriggins: First Man of Jazzology.” 78 Quarterly 1.10 (1992)
  • Abbott, Lynn. “E. Belfield Spriggins: First Man of Jazzology.” 78 Quarterly 1.10 (1992)
  • Wright, Earl M. “At Moon Time.” Louisiana Weekly [New Orleans] 27 Aug. 1932
  • Wright, Earl M. “At Moon Time.” Louisiana Weekly [New Orleans] 27 Aug. 1932
  • Pythian Temple. 1990. Calender with drawing and description
  • Pythian Temple. 1990. Calender with drawing and description
  • The Louisiana Weekly. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2012. .
  • Armagost, Karen. “Temple Theatre/Pythian Roof/ Parisian Garden Room Building.” New Orleans Jazz Sites: Then and Now (2012): n. pag. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. .
  • Pythian Temple. 1990. Calender with drawing and description

This page was last modified on 04 December 2012, at 11:00

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Pythian Temple Building

234 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, LA