GO Arts: Happy Birthday, Pythians! The Knights celebrate 150 years with an open house at their Tacoma lodge.
BY ROSEMARY PONNEKANTI
Tacoma News TribuneFebruary 12, 2014
Quick, name 10 things you know about the Knights of Pythias!
Stuck? We’re not surprised. The fraternal order isn’t as shrouded in secrecy as some, but there’s definitely an air of mystique about the 1906 temple hidden upstairs in a downtown Tacoma building, and the group of charitable folks who meet there. But fret not! Next Wednesday all will be revealed as the Tacoma Pythians celebrate the 150th anniversary of their order with an open house at the lodge on Broadway, Tacoma.
The open house begins at 6 p.m. Feb. 19, when members of the Commencement no. 7 will give tours of the extraordinary, Frederick Heath-designed hall that looks like something out of Hogwarts (and lies behind an equally Harry Potteresque street number: 924 ½ Broadway). At 7 p.m. there’ll be a screening of the 1962 film classic “Damon and Pythias,” which tells the story of the myth behind the order. Pythias, an Athenian, is sentenced to death but given leave to visit his family one last time if he can find a proxy to stay in prison to guarantee his return. His best friend Damon volunteers – and the story of loyal friendship inspired the order founded on Feb. 19, 1864, with a motto of “Friendship, Charity and Benevolence.”
So what else don’t you know about the Pythians? Here are five fun facts.
5. It was Lincoln’s idea
The order was co-founded by Justus H. Rathbone and Abraham Lincoln as a way for America’s North and South to heal the wounds of the Civil War. In its heyday it was the third-largest order in America, behind the Masons and Oddfellows. Currently, the membership stands at around 50,000 (including the Sisters – see below); the Commencement Lodge meets Monday nights, and does charitable work.
4. It’s not just men
Yes, Virginia, you can join the Pythians. In 1888 the order of Pythian Sisters was founded to engage women in “altruistic endeavors” including the promotion of family and friendship. It’s aligned with the Knights and a few other orders, and is open to any woman over 16 who speaks English and believes, like the Knights, in a supreme being.
3. It’s the interior of Stadium High School (kind of)
The Pythian Temple was built in 1906, and designed by lodge member Frederick Heath, architect of Lincoln High School, St. Patrick’s, First Church of Christ Scientist, Paradise Inn and others – including Stadium High School. But while the interior of Stadium High isn’t nearly as resplendent as its exterior, the Pythian Temple is the reverse, hiding a grand hall with mock Grecian columns, a semi-circular stage, elaborate molding, frieze murals of the Pythias myth and even a 1907 Seybold-Reed pipe organ behind the mysterious street door and a brick exterior. The only hints (and they’re big ones) are the historic mural Pythian Temple sign high on the brick and the vintage green neon sign out front.
2. The Jules Verne connection
Verne published “Around the World in 80 Days” in 1873, decades before the temple was built. But eccentric rail magnate George Francis Train – who had set the round-the-world record in 1870, possibly inspiring Verne’s hero Phileas Fogg – set off on his third such trip in 1890 from the very spot on Broadway where the Pythian Temple now stands.
1. There’s a secret back entrance
Actually, not so secret. If you’ve attended First Night events at the Pythian Temple you’ll have gone through the enormous studded Hogwartsian doors at 924 ½ Broadway. But for the open house (and other times), enter via Court C, up the hill at the back of the building. Look for the green door and the triangular F-C-B logo. You probably don’t need a secret password, though.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Knights of Pythias Commencement No.7 is marking the fraternal order’s 150th birthday with an open house and movie screening at its landmark lodge, at 6 p.m. Feb. 19 at 924 Broadway.
The Knights of Pythias is a fraternal organization founded at Washington, DC, on Feb. 19, 1864 by Justus H. Rathbone and Abraham Lincoln as a way for the North and South to heal the wounds gained during the Civil War.
The order draws its name from the legend of Damon and Pythias that illustrates the ideals of loyalty, honor and friendship that are the center of the order. The distinguishing principles of the Order of Knights of Pythias are “Friendship, Charity and Benevolence.” At its highest, the non-denominational, non-political fraternal society was the third largest fraternal order in America, behind the Masons and the Oddfellows. It and its Pythian Sisters groups currently number more than 2,000 lodges around the world, with a total membership of about 50,000.
The Pythian Temple, built in 1906 was designed by noted Tacoma architect Frederick Heath, who was also a member of the lodge. The facility is listed on the national and local historical registry because is largely remains intact as it was built more than a century ago. Its roster of members include the who’s who of Tacoma’s history, from mayors, lawmakers, police chiefs and business tycoons. The lodge space is currently a host to First Night events as well as a handful of community activities throughout the year as well as weekly lodge meetings.
During the open house, visitors will have a chance to tour the facility and learn its history as well as view the 1962 classic “Damon and Pythias.”
The movie follows the story of Pythias, a liberal Athenian who believes all men are brothers, only to find himself condemned to death by Dionysus, the tyrant of Syracuse. Dionysus, however, allows Pythias to return to Athens to visit his ailing wife with the understanding he will then come back to face his punishment. Damon, a friend of Pythias, volunteers to be a hostage to guarantee Pythias’s return. Dionysius doesn’t expect Pythias to keep his end of the bargain, thus exposing the falsity of his beliefs, but Pythias proves to be a man of his word.
The movie stars Guy Williams, who was coming off his successes as Walt Disney’s Zorro in both television and movies and would go on to play the role of John Robinson in the Sci Fi classic “Lost in Space.”
While donations will be accepted, the tours and movie screening are free and open to the public. More information can be found at Facebook.com/TacomaPythians. Tours of the Castle Hall will be held between 6 and when the movie starts at 7 p.m.
For anyone who has ever marveled at the exterior of Stadium High School but then ventured into the incongruous, somewhat disappointing, “modernized” interior there is a better ending.
Although architect Frederick Heath’s original interior is long since gone, another hidden chamber in Tacoma holds all the point in time drama, detail and dimension of the designer’s mind. At exactly the same time he was designing the reconstruction of the Tourist Hotel as Tacoma High School in 1906, Heath was creating the Tacoma Temple of the Knights of Pythias in the center of the theater district at 924 Broadway.
At the beautiful building’s heart is Castle Hall, a soaring, theatrical two story high room with rich Douglas fir paneling, massive scrolled brackets supporting a three sided balcony and classical entablature and murals ringing the space.
During Andy and Joe’s reshoot of this September 24, 1924 cast photo from the play “Tahmamaiwis” presented by the Pythian Sisters, they realized a startling, almost inconceivable sameness. Not only was the architecture unchanged, the furniture, wall finishes, artwork and fixtures aligned precisely- after 89 years and one day.
Everything changes but sometimes the pace of change is spellbinding.
Two events at the lodge on Saturday.
MEMBERS: There will be a reception at 2 p.m. for the Grand Chancellor visitation.
NON-MEMBERS: there is this little thing at noon …http://www.tacomaweekly.com/citylife/view/the-doctor-is-calling-you/
And don’t forget the social night on Monday.
The next big event will be the Dickens Project on Dec. 1.
The kids of Propbox Theatre Group, one of TWO theaters in the building, will be staging a benefit reading of scenes of “William Shakeaspeare’s Star Wars,” ‘a tale told by fretful Droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtrooper, signifying… Pretty much everything.”
The event will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 20 at the Knights of the Pythias lodge at, 926 Broadway, in downtown Tacoma.
Star War’s has been reinterpreted through the words of the Immortal Bard in the new novel “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily a New Hope” by Ian Doescher and will be dramatically and hilariously performed during a stage reading by the teen actors of Propbox Theatre Group. The event is free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted for MY SISTER’S PANTRY, an all volunteer food bank supported by the Knights and our Sisters.
If you miss this event, Tacoma Public Library will host a reading the following day.http://evanced.tacomapubliclibrary.org/evanced/lib/eventsignup.asp?ID=5436&rts&disptype=info&ret=eventcalendar.asp&pointer=inhouse&returnToSearch&num=0&ad&dt=mo&mo=10%2F1%2F2013&df=calendar&EventType=ALL&Lib=ALL&AgeGroup=ALL&LangType=0&WindowMode&noheader&lad&pub=1&nopub&page&pgdisp
Brother Steve vacationed in New Orleans and looked up the location of the KOP lodge in the Big Easy. It has been closed for years, unfortunately, but was apparently THE PLACE for social events for the community.
Yeah, that’s my daughter as the director of the show. I find her immensely tolerable.
The lodge is alive with kids laughing and helping the community at the same time, sorta like what a community should be…. sorta.