Constructed for the Colored Knights of Pythias, an African American fraternal organization, the steel-framed building is clad in light-brown brick. Initially seven stories in height, the two additional floors and rooftop terrace were added in 1923. The tall round-arched windows that unite the two upper stories reiterate those of the building’s most attractive feature, a stone frontispiece that covers the central three bays of the second and third stories. The frontispiece’s cream-colored stone stands out against the light-brown brick walls in color and in its Renaissance-styled details. A theater/auditorium occupied the second floor. Smith Wendell (S. W.) Green, president of Liberty Independent Insurance and international officer of the Colored Knights of Pythias, played a major role in the establishment of the temple. The building housed various offices, including those of the People’s Benevolent Industrial Life Insurance Company where Homer Plessy (of the U.S. Supreme Court Plessy v. Ferguson “separate-but-equal” case; see OR52) worked. The Knights of Pythias vacated the building in 1941, and it subsequently had various occupants. In 1957, it was “modernized” with an aluminum slipcover, which was removed in the 2017 renovation; damage to the decorative details of the stone frontispiece was repaired. After standing empty for several years, the building has been renovated for mixed uses, with office and retail space and mixed-income apartments.
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Historic Pythian Temple
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