Sunday, June 24, 2018

Odums, Tureaud and the Pythian Temple

Its mysterious original name, the Pythian Temple, sounds like something from the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now rechristened “the Pythian,” the restored 9 story, circa 1909 building reopened on May 9th with the unveiling of a large commissioned mural of Nola civil rights lawyer A. P. Tureaud and his wife Lucille. Boldly painted by local street artist Brandan "B-Mike" Odums on a wall of the lobby, the mural sets a mysterious tone as its subjects seem to gaze out at us from a lost time. Famous for spray painting large history murals over the scarred surfaces of the abandoned Florida housing project in 2013, Odums similarly painted over the Pythian wall's exposed steel and masonry construction that had been considered cutting edge for its time. The horizontal shadow slashing across the figures is from a massive steel beam, while the wooden bench below incorporated planks from old Pythian's rooftop dance floor. By painting the mural over the wall's complex surfaces, Odums turns it into a palimpsest comprised of many layers from different times just as much of New Orleans suggests a vast collaborative art project crafted by many generations over the ages.

Beyond all that, the mysterious mural poses many questions. Who were A. P. and Lucille Tureaud, and why were they chosen as symbols by Green Coast Enterprises, the building's developers? Both were scions of the professional class descended from Nola's unusually large and affluent population of free people of color, the same professional class that built the Pythian and included many of its tenants. A. P. Tureaud led the local chapter of the NAACP during the civil rights era and Lucille Dejoie's family owned the Pythian-based Louisiana Weekly newspaper. They wed after meeting on its rooftop terrace in the late 1920s and became a prominent power couple in a community facing stark economic and social challenges. By the 1940s, hard financial times caused the Pythian to be sold. In the 1960s it was shrouded in stark modernist cladding, part of which remains preserved on its side rear wall, right, visually entombing the original structure and concealing its once powerful presence. Its restoration, symbolized by Odums' haunting mural, marks the start of a new chapter of a remarkable ongoing story. ~Bookhardt / The A.P. and Lucille Tureaud Mural at the Pythian, Ongoing, The Pythian, 234 Loyola Ave, 281-4372.