Its original name, the Pythian Temple, sounds like something from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now rechristened The Pythian, the restored nine-story, circa 1909 building unveiled a commissioned mural of New Orleans civil rights lawyer A. P. Tureaud and his wife Lucille Dejoie Tureaud. Boldly painted by local muralist Brandan "B-Mike" Odums on a wall of the lobby, the work sets a mysterious tone as its subjects seem to gaze at us from a lost time. Odums, famous for spray-painting large murals of civil rights heroes and musicians over the scarred surfaces of the abandoned Florida public housing project in 2013, similarly spray-painted over the Pythian wall's exposed steel and masonry construction, which had been considered cutting edge when the building was constructed. The horizontal shadow slashing across the figures is from a massive steel beam, while the wooden bench below incorporates planks from the 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 multi-layered 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, ERG Enterprises and Crescent City Community Land Trust, the building's co-developers? Both were scions of the professional class descended from New Orleans' large and affluent population of free people of color, the same professional class that built the Pythian and became 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 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 covered in unremarkable modernist cladding that effectively entombed the original building, concealing its once powerful presence. Its recent restoration, symbolized by Odums' mural, marks the start of a new chapter of a remarkable ongoing story. Pythian Market, 234 Loyola Ave, (504) 460-2269; www.pythianmarket.com.