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The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri
Local History

Public Offices Moved to Pythian Castle

"Like the fortress it appears to be, the early 20th century limestone Pythian castle traditionally has served as a refuge for the daunted, the orphaned, the aged and war-weary. Desolate and showing signs of age, the 67-year-old stone castle at 1951 Pythian has been unused for the past two years since the Army Reserve, its last occupant, moved into a new building opposite the structure…The two-story structure was built in 1914 by the Knights of Pythias fraternal organization for $150,000 on a 53-acre plot given to the organization by the city of Springfield. They maintained it as a home for orphans and aged persons of the organization until 1942, when the U.S. Army purchased it during World War II for use as a servicemen’s club in conjunction with the 300-bed O’Reilly General Hospital…It became part of the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in 1945, then in 1955 the Government Services Administration donated 22.4 acres of the property to Evangel College, retaining the castle and 20.6 acres.

"The Ozark Area Community Action Corp, which administers programs to the needy, began renovating the Pythian Castle for offices in September. Renovation, however, has begun to transform the building’s interior leaving its old castle appearance and its mission, a solace for the needy, intact. 

"‘It was so dusty,’ Jeanne Meadows, OACAC public relations officer said of the initial appearance of the historic landmark. ‘Paint was peeling off the walls. No one thought it could be transformed. But then they were enthusiastic once we got started.’

"Six large first-floor rooms, which once served as strategy rooms for army personnel, have been partitioned into offices for OACAC staff. A wall length wood-carved world map, designed during the war by Italian prisoners of war, will remain in the old strategy room, which will be a part of the Home Health Care offices. Foster Grandparents, the Food Bank program and OACAC executive offices will occupy the east wing of the first floor, with Homebound Shopper for the aged on the west.

"A conference room faces the entrance. Vestiges are evident of a small stage where big bands, such as Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, played while G.I's danced. The Greene County Neighborhood Center will occupy the north-west wing of the first floor, the only offices in the building that are completely renovated. With drop ceilings, carpet, and a new cost of paint, the neighborhood center offices, which was the only renovation performed by a general contractor, are to be the prototype for the remainder of the building, Joann Wills, renovation supervisor, said.

"Though the basement once was a commissary and had a bowling alley for servicemen, it now harks back to scenes of a dungeon from the Elizabethan Era. It will be used as a storage area for the Food Bank program, Ms. Wills said. Some of the original features had to be sacrificed. The view of a 5-by-five foot oak-framed mirror over a now-still fireplace that once grace the visiting area of the home is blocked by the wall of a new corridor. Yet, much of the original charm was salvaged. The second floor hallway leading to the 355-seat auditorium will remain. The site invokes scenes of scampering children filing through to attend study sessions, or servicemen filing in to view films of Betty Grable or comedy acts. Head Start program staff will utilize rooms which served as dormitories. Housing counselors and the Work Experience and Community Food & Nutrition programs staff will occupy the remaining second floor offices.

"Renovation has been an arduous process, OACAC staff say. Insufficient funds and a diminishing work force compete with the deadline for renovation completion. With only one-fourth of the work finished, OACAC must move its staff of 75 and equipment into the building by May 1, when its lease expires for its offices at 3003 E. Trafficway.

"The Community Services Administration gave the agency $41,000 to renovate, Ms. Meadows said. But an architectural study placed renovation costs at $500,000. Various departments which will have offices in the building have contributed a total of $39,000 toward renovation, bringing the available funds up to $80,000.

"The agency, however, is getting a hand in keeping renovation costs down. Carl Wills, a carpenter and Seabees reserve unit member, arranged for the group to volunteer their weekends to restore the building. Seebees, which did most of the sheet-rock and ceiling work, also have helped train other building crew members. OACAC employees have donated time to scrape chipped paint, repaint walls and clean out debris from the building.

"Though they will spend money to renovate the structure, a move to the building will save OACAC $80,000 annually since it will not be required to pay to rent the Pythian. If the agency is put out of business by the budget-cutting Congress, the lease will be assumed by the Health and Human Services department, Ms. Willis said." Leader & Press April 13, 1981.

The images above accompanied the article and show, in descending order, the exterior of the castle, the bars on the basement windows, and a hallway with a skylight.


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