August 4, 2013

New York Egyptian Deco, 1926: Thomas Lamb and the Pythian Temple

(updated) Anyone strolling along West 70th between Columbus Avenue and Broadway on Manhattan's Upper West Side may want to come to a full and complete stop in front of 135. Here rises the commanding pharaonic authority of the Order of Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization dating to the time of the Civil War, and for whom architect Thomas Lamb designed this Egyptian Art Deco extravaganza in 1926.

The Pythian Temple, 135 W. 70th St.

Members of the Knights of Pythias, founded in Washington, D.C. in 1864, committed themselves to a Supreme Being, all-around clean-living, and general civic-mindedness. Back in the day, a friend of mine from Texas won a Knights of Pythias high school debate contest, a big deal then and for which he was mighty proud. In the heyday of the Pythians, the members built splendid temples throughout the country, many of which are still extent and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Pythian Temple, 135 W. 70th St.

Thomas W. Lamb, a NYC architect specializing in movie palaces and theaters, made a good choice for the New York temple. Like the movie theaters, the Pythian Temple evokes an escape from the city's unpleasant chains. Even without the privilege of going inside and luxuriating in the black marble interior, the exterior offers the astonishing sight of four seated pharaohs about 100 feet up, a commanding colonnade with a lot of oxen, and all sorts of creatures half-man and half-beast.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to Captain Spaulding.



Lamb's United Palace Theatre at 175th and Broadway in Washington Heights is a wonder to behold. (WOTBA story from October 2016) Lamb's Hollywood Theatre at 237 West 51st Street, commissioned by Warner Bros, is still around, too. Known in the Broadway community as the Mark Hellinger Theater, the building now houses the interdenominational Times Square Church.

The Pythian Temple, 135 W. 70th St.


In the 1940s, Decca Records leased space in the W. 70 temple from the Pythians, transforming the auditorium into a first-rate recording facility. Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and His Comets came out of here and so did recordings by Buddy Holly and Billie Holiday. Later uses included a campus for the New York Institute of Technology. Now the building is a condominium.



Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. Clip is from Animal Crackers, starring The Marx Brothers, Paramount Pictures 1930, filmed in Astoria. (Many thanks to Captain Streible for this appropriate movie quotation.) Read related post on The Marx Brothers in New York.

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