164 Fifth Avenue

A 1918 design by the great department store architects Starrett & van Vleck, 164 Fifth Avenue is an elegantly framed composition that suggests an abstracted triumphal arch. The fourth floor is a later addition.

164 Fifth Avenue was for a time tenanted by the Knights of Pythias, who moved here in the 1970s from their astonishing Upper West Side building by Thomas Lamb, the 1927 Pythian Temple, a vast Assyrian/Egyptian/Art Deco mish-mash on West 70th Street, now a condominium.

A fraternal organization founded in 1864 by the composer and actor Justus T. Rathbone, the Knights of Pythias was the first such organization to receive a charter in the United States. Inspired by Irish playwright John Banim’s treatment of the legend of Damon and Pythias, symbolic in the Classical world of loyalty between friends, the order’s buildings were referred to as Pythian Castles and were often fanciful interpretations of medieval Gothic. This location, while in keeping with the chic commercial architecture of the avenue, must have struck an anomalous note for the organization.

Starrett & van Vleck’s output included the New York City flagship stores of such retail giants as Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Abraham & Strauss. We’ll be seeing a great deal more of their work as we move north.

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