Pythian Condominiums

Converting buildings to residential use from something else often creates positive unconventionality: bigger spaces, higher spaces, representativeness that is usually reserved for public buildings or inventive ways to create the privacy of a dwelling.

There are not only lofts converted from old warehouses and industrial buildings. In East Village I found a synagogue changed into a townhouse with a star of David rose window in the three-story high living room. But the most enchanting so far is the Pythian Temple on West 70th Street that was changed into “Pythian Condominiums” in the 1980’s by David Gura Architects ( and actually winning the AIA Residential Design Award for conversion and restoration in 1982 (!). Eclectic – yes. Fantastic in a strange, postmodern Golden Age Hollywood way – definitely yes.

Entrance to the Pythian

Art Deco Egyptian and Assyrian decoration motifs and postmodern orange mirror glass casually meet on the facade and looking up you see brightly colored “abusimbelian” pharaonic figures. Thomas W. Lamb made the original design for the Order of Knights of Pythias, apparently  a secret boys’ club founded during the Civil War. It first served as a temple and club house for the knights, the Pythian Sunshine Girls and the Dramatic Order Knights of Khorassan… It would be nice to know who lives there now.

In 1928, the New Yorker critic had this to say: ” … Lamb scores once more in the temple for the knights of Pythias … the polychrome terra cotta is beautifully done and makes me long for more color in architecture…”

You can’t really add anything to that.


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