Among the iconic Toledo buildings that have been condemned to slow deaths by neglect, lack of funds, or narrowness of vision, none is more original or deserving of resurrection than the Pythian Castle. Refurbished, it could anchor further development in a resurgent downtown.
The Romanesque structure’s sandstone exterior, arched windows, dormers, and 185-foot tower are unique elements in Toledo’s downtown skyline. Built in 1890, it is one of downtown’s oldest remaining buildings.
Fraternal organizations enjoyed great popularity in the second half of the 19th century. Pythian Castle was built by the Knights of Pythias, which was formed during the Civil War to promote peace through understanding. The group was inspired by the ancient Greek story of Damon and Pythias, whose honesty and friendship were so deep that each was willing to give up his life for the other.
Toledo’s Pythians used the top floors of the building for private rites and ceremonies, as well as for public functions and to store the regalia and paraphernalia of their secret order. The bottom floor housed the store and offices of J.W. Green Co., a wholesale and retail dealer in pianos and organs, until 1961.
The building’s once-magnificent interior included a third-floor stage and auditorium and a fourth-floor grand ballroom. The Toledo Symphony had office space there in the 1960s. Internationally known conductor and Toledo native Dennis Russell Davies, now the chief conductor of the Basel Symphony Orchestra, used to practice there.
Pythian Castle was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It was featured in Jane Ware’s 2002 book on Ohio’s urban architecture.
Parts of the exterior have fallen off over the years. The interior would have to be gutted to meet modern electrical, water, heating, accessibility, and safety standards. Restoration would be an act of adaptive reuse worthy of the ideals that inspired the fraternal order that built the castle.
The current owner has no known plans for the building, and owes some $30,000 in back taxes. Lucas County shouldn’t allow that tax bill to become a barrier to finding a new owner who can take advantage of record low interest rates, the growing popularity of Toledo’s downtown as a place to live, and the scarcity of apartments.
It’s time to write a new Damon and Pythias story. All that’s needed is for the right actors to step forward.
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