Pythian Temple downtown was once the ‘center of black life’ in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- February is Black History Month, a month-long celebration remembering the important contributions that African Americans have made in our nation's history.

In honor of Black History Month, News with a Twist is featuring the people and places of New Orleans and beyond that helped to shape our community.

Today, we tell the story of the Pythian Temple on Loyola Avenue downtown.

If you stroll by the historic building today, you'll find upscale apartments and a market with food and retail vendors.

But in its heyday, the Pythian was where Louis Armstrong played at the rooftop garden, where black-owned businesses were started and operated, and where The Louisiana Weekly was founded.

The building was developed in 1909 by Smith W. Green, a former slave who emerged as a successful businessman who was the leader of the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization established by Congress in the wake of the Civil War in an effort to unite the country.

The Pythian was where Homer Plessy worked, where the Negro Board of Trade was located, and where the New Orleans chapter of the NAACP was once housed.

"There are many wonderful stories of important meetings there," said Historian Brenda Square.  "A.P. Tureaud tells the story of how his parents met there.  So when we look at the marker downtown, it gives us a whole new perspective on what it was like."

The Pythian was also home to a theater that hosted vaudeville shows, music performances, and African American Carnival balls.

The Knights of Pythias lost the building in 1941, and two years later it became a hiring center for Higgins Industries, owned by Andrew Higgins, who invented the "Higgins Boat."

It later became a civic center and housed a district court, a bank and medical offices before eventually falling into disrepair.

The Pythian Apartments and Pythian Market opened in 2017.