History of the Pythodd
Rochester’s Third Ward was the city’s wealthiest residential neighborhood for much of the nineteenth century. Dubbed the “ruffled-shirt district” for its elite residents, the area’s fashionable homes and splendid Victorian mansions radiated sophistication and power. Working-class African Americans and Irish and Italian immigrants moved into the Calendonia Avenue (now Clarissa Street) area to take jobs as maids, janitors, and chauffers in nearby mansions. By the 1930s, Kodak’s boom created new, more fashionable elite enclaves, to which the Third Ward’s old moneyed families moved. Real estate discrimination concentrated African Americans arriving from the South in the Third Ward, and redlining made it impossible for them to leave.
As the Third Ward became a working-class community, it became home to one of Rochester’s most inspiring cultural touchstones: the Pythodd Jazz Club. The local branches of two benevolent societies, the Knights of Pythias and the Odd Fellows, shared a meeting space at 159 Troup Street. In the ‘30s, the building became something like a town hall, where members of the fraternities and the surrounding community came together. Eventually, the location came to be called the “PythOdd” Hall – a combination of the two societies’ names.
In 1942, Knights of Pythias chairman Walter Durham opened Pythodd Hall to the public as a social club that featured local and touring musicians. Its popularity as a jazz venue grew in the ‘50s when the club was run by Stewart Hendricks, Roy King, and Billy Tazzel. Big names started playing there, and by the time Stanley Thomas Jr and Charlie Burgess took it over in 1965, The Pythodd was famous as one of the best places to go for a night out. Great bands put the audience in a “mellow mood,” making life, at least for a few hours, “the way it should be.”
Life was not mellow in the 1960s, though. Rochester’s July 1964 uprising raged around the Third Ward, and in its wake the City of Rochester implemented urban renewal plans that demolished large parts of the neighborhood. The construction of interstate 490 also displaced community members and destroyed –figuratively and literally–many small businesses. The relocation of RIT from just north of the legendary Pythodd Club to its current Henrietta location further crippled local business. Economic decline temporarily closed the jazz club for two years from ‘66 to ‘68. It reopened and operated for another five years, but continued urban renewal disruption and shifts in cultural tastes away from jazz eventually shuttered The Pythodd in 1972. The storied old building was levelled and today a parking lot occupies the corner of Troup and Clarissa where the beloved club once stood.