DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – On the corner of Elm and Good Latimer in Deep Ellum you will find a 5-story brick building that 100 years ago was known as the Pythias Temple — a fraternal society for African Americans that also served as a meeting place for business and social gatherings.
Today a major renovation at the building is underway, with the goal to preserve and protect the history and significance of the space.
“It was like the place to go and the place to be,” said George Keaton Junior who founded Remembering Black Dallas. He says the building was the first in Dallas, built by African Americans, for African Americans.
“It had an elevator. Prior to that, many African Americans had never been on an elevator. But because this was a black-owned business, they were able to… because in downtown Dallas they could not use the elevators,” Keaton said.
Deep Ellum was originally settled by former slaves in the 1870s and was a “Freedmen’s town”. According to the National Parks Service, the building was built in 1916 and opened as the Grand Lodge of the Colored Knights of Pythias.
The architect, William Sidney Pittman, is regarded as the first black architect in Dallas. Pittman, a Tuskegee Institute graduate and son-in-law of Booker T. Washington, brought to life a Beaux Arts style building that featured classic Greek and Roman ornamental forms.
“It was during an oppressed time and dark time in Dallas, but this building represented a time when they could be free and happy and dance and have a small time to enjoy life away from all that was outside the community,” Keaton said.
But the Great Depression led to hard times and in the 1940’s the Knights of Pythias sold the building. It became a bank. At one point the red bricks were spray painted white.
And then, from the 1990’s on, it sat vacant.
“The fact is, that there was a struggle for 30 to 40 years of people working to make sure it did not get torn down,” Keaton said.
These days the old headquarters of the Grand Lodge of the Colored Knights of Pythias is being converted into a boutique hotel called, The Pittman, named after the architect who designed it more than a century ago.
“That’s a good thing, as it will bring more life into –not only this area — but into the building. I hope to stay in it one night,” Keaton said.
A new name and a new purpose aims to keep the building standing for years to come.
The Pittman is scheduled to open later this year.