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Wouldn't you like to own one of these wonderfully streamlined, bug-eyed cars? Ashley Street in LaVilla used to buzz with African American shoppers by day and partiers by night. This photo dates from February 1943, when World War II raged. Source of image: American Memory Project, Library of Congress.
There were about 18 residential rooms for rent at the Knights of Pythias Building in 1943. As indicated by the city directory, all of the inhabitants appear to have been black. Among the structure's other occupants was a cabinet shop owned by an African American named Clarence O. Barnes.

Knights of Pythias Building

The Knights of Pythias Building, with its domed front door, proved a big part of the LaVilla scene. Located at 727 West Ashley, it housed a variety of businesses, as well as boarding rooms, meeting facilities, and a 3rd floor dance hall where nationally-known entertainers performed. Among the many users of the meeting rooms were the Daughters of Calanthe. Over the years, the building’s private establishments included a hotel, Sentinel Publishing, White Front Pool Parlor, Peoples Dressmaking Shop, and Dr. James P. Patterson’s Drug Store.

Commercial districts thrived in many African American neighborhoods during the Jim Crow era. Black Americans were given 2nd class treatment at numerous white-owned stores. They usually couldn’t put on clothing, for example, prior to purchasing it. Then again, some Jax stores required only African American customers to place tissue paper over their heads before trying on hats. And store staffs, almost always lily white, often forced black patrons to wait until all of the white visitors had been served first. African Americans also received inferior service and segregated accommodations at white restaurants, theaters, and nightclubs — that is, if they were even allowed in. Therefore, places like LaVilla proved lucrative for black entrepreneurs, who catered to African American shoppers. Much of this ended, however, when integration finally occurred. Competition from white establishments forced a number of black businesses into the red.

In 1943, when LaVilla was still in its heyday, the area around the Knights of Pythias Building drew crowds. African American patrons made tracks to such establishments as the Strand Theater, Frolic Theater, Lenape Bar, Hollywood Music Store, Hotel Charlie Edd, and Green Front Hotel. Stanton High School and the Clara White Mission also stood nearby. Do you recall any of these neighboring entrepreneurs & enterprises?

  • Strand Donut Shop
  • Daniel Joyner (African American cigar store)
  • Nettie Leapheart (African American beauty shop)
  • William A. Barrington (African American restaurant)
  • Gussie Campbell (African American restaurant)
  • James R. Burris (African American liquors)
  • Economy Shoe Repair (African American)
  • Nattrew Livingston (African American dress shop)
  • Julia Davis (African American dress shop)
  • James R. Burris (African American liquor store)
  • Paramount Barber Shop (African American)
  • Eutopia Beauty Salon (African American)
  • Weaver’s Tavern (African American)
  • Wilson Mack (African American barber)
  • Charles F. Harris (African American women’s furnishings)
  • Thaddeus Alvarez (African American shoe shiner)
  • Louis Legro (confectioner)
  • Edgar L. Moler (grocer)
  • Lee Lemmle (African American barbershop)
  • Edward P. Jones (African American beauty shop)
  • William Moseley (African American clothes cleaner)
  • William Barr (African American restaurant)
  • Casson Norman, Evelyn Green, Marie Radford, William Hopkins, and Frank A. Crosby (African American confectioners)
  • James T. Taylor (African American barber shop)
  • Otis Limbric, Zachariah Limbric, and Cecil L. Limbric (African American barbers)
  • Edward P. Jones (African American beauty shop)
  • Griffin Fruit Shop (African American)
  • Frank Littleton (African American restaurant)
  • Samuel Holley (grocery store)
  • Pullman Restaurant (African American)
  • You Gee Restaurant
  • Ernest L. Gross (African American soft drink company)
  • Herbert the Tailor (African American)
  • Matilda Way (African American restaurant)

The Knights of Pythias Building was constructed after the Great Fire of 1901 to replace meeting facilities that had been burned. The structure lasted until 1957, when it was finally torn down. Developers had wanted to build a new hotel/apartment at the site, but these plans didn’t get off the ground. A field and parking lot now occupy the spot in back of the LaVilla School of the Arts.

During the 1890s, by the way, a well-known bordello operated just across from the future Knights of the Pythias Building. Cora Crane, the common law wife of the eminent author Stephen Crane, ran the establishment, which serviced clients at the southwest corner of Ashley and Jefferson. Its dreamy name? The “Hotel de Dreme.”

~written by Glenn Emery


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