The Knights of Pythias Building at 727 West Ashley Street. (Library of Congress)

The Order of Knights of Pythias, is an international fraternity that was founded in Washington, DC, February 19, 1864, by Justus H. Rathbone. In April 1880, the first African American Pythian lodge was organized by Dr. Thomas W. Stringer in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Dr. Stringer also organized the State of Florida’s first Lodge at Pensacola in 1881. By the end of the decade, two additional African American Lodges were established in St. Augustine and Jacksonville.

Between 1908 and 1912, membership increased from 2,264 to 4,145. At the time, General William Wallace Andrews served as the Grand Chancellor for the Knights of Pythias Lodge, which was located at his residence at 511 Clay Street in LaVilla. A successful entrepreneur, Andrews established the Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper in 1919. The Florida Sentinel Bulletin flourished until the Great Depression led to its closure.

After relocating from Jacksonville to Tampa in 1934, his son C. Blythe Andrews reopened the newspaper company in 1945. The secretary and treasurer of the Central Life Insurance Company, C. Blythe Andrews also served as a member of the Florida State advisory committee on civil rights by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1962. Today, the Jacksonville newspaper that Andrews reopened in Tampa, is the only African-American publication in Florida that prints twice weekly and owns all its own printing equipment.

The Knights of Pythias Building included 18 upper-level apartment units. (Library of Congress)

Experiencing significant growth by the 1920s, the Knights of Pythias acquired the site of a former motion picture theater at 725 West Ashley Street, that was once owned by William D. Cozart. The building was razed and replaced with a five-story, mixed use building for the Lodge. Completed circa 1924, the Prairie-School building contained eighteen apartments and several businesses, including Weaver’s Tavern, a hotel, White Front Pool Parlor, Peoples Dressmaking Ship, the Paramount Barbershop and Andrews’ Florida Sentinel Bulletin. It’s upper floors also housed meeting facilities for the Knights of Pythias and Daughters of Calanthe members.

However, the fourth-floor dance hall was most popular space in the Knights of Pythias Building. Here, nationally-known entertainers performed on a regular basis, leading to the strip becoming the 1930s southeastern headquarters of what eventually became known as the Chitlin’ Circuit a few decades later. National acts that performed at the Knights of Pythias include Louis Armstrong, Earl “Father” Hines, Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Lunceford, and Walter Barnes. Barnes, a band leader and Chicago Defender columnist, was so impressed, he called Jacksonville a flytown with plenty of big shots and went out of his way to share his fun times in town.

In Jacksonville, we played at the Knights of Pythias ballroom. Presented by Florida’s ace promoter Joe Higdon, of the Hollywood Musice Store. Unlike most promoters, Joe only handles name bands but will cooperate with the various clubs and smaller promoters in putting over their dances. Joe has brought such attractions as Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Flecther Henderson, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington and Walter Barnes to Jax.

Walter Barnes Chicago Defender - January 2, 1937

The dedication of the Clara White Mission at the intersection of Broad and West Ashley Streets in 1947. The Knights of Pythias and Strand Theatre can be seen in the background. (University of North Florida)

During LaVilla’s heyday, West Ashley Street drew huge crowds and was regionally known as a district that never slept. Other theatres and live music venues within walking distance included the Lenape Bar, Hollywood Music Store, Strand, Roosevelt, Frolic and Ritz Theatres.

The best hotel in Jax is the Wynn, owned and operated by Jack Wynn and his wife. Jax boasts two fine theatres for sepians, the Strand and the Frolic. The stroll is West Ashley Street, where you can see everybody who is anybody. There are several good restaurants, where one can get home cooked food. The Harlem Grill tavern which is packed to capacity nightly, features a small orchestra and entertainment.

Walter Barnes Chicago Defender - January 2, 1937

This West Ashley Street Sanborn Map illustrates the location of the Knights of Pythias Building (727 West Ashley Street), just west of the Strand Theatre.

Less than twenty years after its construction, its popularity for large scale events declined with the opening of the Two Spot on Christmas Day 1940. James “Charlie Edd” Craddock’s Two Spot was said to be the finest dance palace in the country owned by an African American. Craddock, the kingpin of West Ashley Street, also owned the Charlie Edd Hotel, the Blue Chip Hotel, and Young Men’s Smoke Shop. Located on 45th Street in Moncrief, the Two Spot’s dance floor could accommodate two thousand and another one thousand could be seated surrounding it and on the mezzanine level. The venue also contained a bar, private dining rooms, a cafeteria, speedway, and cabins for overnight stays. Live acts at the Two Spot included B.B. King, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Charlie Singleton, Jackie Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Tiny York, Teddy Washington, and trumpeter Nat Small.

The Two Spot was located in Jacksonville’s Moncrief neighborhood. (State Archives of Florida)

The Two Spot’s popularity and mid-century urban renewal lead to the decline of the Knights of Pythias Building. By 1957, it was razed and poised for redevelopment. Local developer Sam Silver, president of Silver Enterprises had plans to construct a 150-room hotel-apartment with a banquet hall-auditorium and terrace on the site of the old Knights of Pythias building. At street level, plans included commercial space for an air-conditioned lounge, barber shop, beauty shop, restaurant and package store. Like many proposed mixed-use projects in Downtown Jacksonville’s story, this planned development never came to fruition. The site where the Knights of Pythias Building anchored West Ashley Street sat abandoned and undeveloped more than forty years, until the late 1990s construction of the LaVilla School of the Arts. Located slightly north of the actual school building, the property survives as an underutilized grass field on school property.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at