Castles are hard to come by in America, which is why they may be an ultimate tourist attraction. Proving this point is the Pythian Castle in Springfield, Mo., which has been getting a lot of attention lately from architecture lovers, history buffs, ghost hunters and travelers looking for an interesting stop near Old Route 66. The Pythian was included in the book 100 Best Kept Secrets in Missouri, which revealed it is the only castle in the state that is open to the public (apparently Missouri has 18 known castles). The Sci- Fi Channel and the Discovery Channel have both aired programs investigating the otherworldly presence of the old building, which was constructed in 1913 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. And praising the “royal purple, red and gold color palette” of the theater and ballroom, the popular Web site The Knot included the Pythian in its list of the six best “wedding worthy” castles in America. “People like to linger in castles. It’s kind of a trend right now,” said the Pythian’s owner, Tamara Finocchiaro. “People choose us when they want something different.” In contrast with the usual modern event spaces, groups of up to 299 people will find much to explore inside the 40,000 square feet of the Pythian – not only fascinating history but warm ambiance and unique entertainment.
A GENERAL ASSEMBLY EVENT SPACE
Finocchiaro, whose vocations include dancer, aerial circus artist and event coordinator, said she found the castle for sale on the Internet several years ago. Originally from California, she moved to Springfield with the sole purpose of renovating the space, not only to restore it to its former glory – but also “to renovate the space as it was designed to be used initially, as a general assembly event space.” The project was an interesting one because of the castle’s history, starting with its beginnings in the early 20th century. Built by the Knights of Pythias, the castle originally served as an orphanage and old age home for relatives of the Knights. The members of the order also met at the castle on occasion. The building later housed a public movie theater – Springfield’s first. In 1942, the military took over the castle by “order of immediate possession” and turned it into an officers’ club that was affiliated with the O’Reilly General Hospital. In this era, the building’s movie theater was renovated to show modern Hollywood films, the kitchen was moved downstairs, and a bar, bowling alley, pool tables, theme rooms and writing rooms were added to the space. Many famous performers came through the castle as USO entertainment, including Bob Hope, Stan Kenton and Groucho Marx.
THE SECRET’S OUT
Today, the ballroom, located on the disabled-accessible main floor, is an attractive 2,200-square-foot room with high ceilings and numerous windows that let the light pour in. Seating 220 people for a banquet, the room is large, yet doesn’t feel overwhelming because of its warm color scheme and painted columns that break up the space. An adjoining 1,100-squarefoot space can be used for overflow seating. Just behind this area are an event storage room and a prep area. The layout of the second floor mirrors that of the first. The theater, just above the ballroom, has roughly the same amount of square footage, but at one end of the room is a stage, framed by lush red curtains. Naturally, the room is great for performances, but can also be set up for smaller functions such as a holiday or birthday party. Because of the castle’s ambiance, planners won’t need to spend a lot of money sprucing up the room. Tables and chairs are on site and groups can hook into the castle’s sound system. If additional equipment is needed, the Pythian’s staff can help planners make arrangements with one of Springfield’s many rental companies. These event spaces, and others – including the front staircase and entryway that showcase the native Carthage stone of the castle – give visitors not only something memorable, but something that’s been hidden from most people’s view for nearly a century, Finocchiaro said. “For most of its 97 years, it was owned privately – you had to be related to a Knights of Pythias member or a member of the U.S. military. That’s probably why we’re listed as one of Missouri’s best kept secrets. Now, everybody gets to experience it,” she said.
TOURS, SHOWS, AND CIRCUS
Several times throughout the day, the castle gives public tours, which are $7.50 for adults and $5.00 for children and seniors. These tours start in the history room, just inside the Pythian’s entrance. It has dozens of framed historical pictures and news articles on the walls, as well as binders filled with fascinating research about the castle. Variations of these tours and entertainment offered at the castle can liven up your private event, Finocchiaro said. “We have different ways that people can experience the property. They can host events, or they can do tours of the property, and sometimes we incorporate the tours into some of our events,” she said. “We have dinner theaters, which are often used for private events.” In addition to dinner theater and murder mystery events, the castle offers aerial circus act performances. At one of these shows, you’ll find the castle’s talented staff of performers showing off their acrobatic skills. You might even see Finocchiaro, who specializes in aerial silks, in which the dancer twists, twirls, and holds various static poses while hanging from a suspended piece of fabric. The aerial acts can only be held in the theater on the castle’s second floor because of beams in that room, which allow apparatuses to be strung from the ceiling. But the room’s size and layout work very well. “Aerial circus acts create a very intimate environment. They’re very small – very up close and personal,” Finocchiaro said.
EXPERIENCING IT ALL
Planners who have used the castle have been impressed by both the entertainment and the space. Tambra Bates, human resources manager for General Pet, a Springfield-based pet supply wholesale distributor, had a holiday party at the castle for more than 100 employees of the company. The group had hors d’oeuvres and entertainment, which included two “dueling” singing Santas, one traditional and one modern – an act that Finocchiaro said will probably be ongoing for the holidays. Bates said the group had a great experience at the castle, and praised the staff. “They were very accommodating, thorough, and available for just about anything we needed of them. We’ll more than likely return next year.” Jason McGuire, supervisor at Springfield Sonic Drive-In, hosted a holiday party for about 80 partners from stores around the state. His event included a short presentation about the castle, a sit-down meal, and team building games in the Pythian’s basement. He appreciated both the facility’s affordability and Finocchiaro’s skills as a coordinator. “She had everything ready for us. All we had to do was set up our games, and tell her what time we wanted to eat,” he said. “She was right on point.” Finocchiaro said the castle can create any mood planners want to achieve. “We have a mixture of spaces, and you get a different experience when you move into different rooms,” she said. “It’s a one-stop, multi-experience facility.” MM&E
(Heather McNeill is a contributor from Kansas City, Mo.)
1451 E. Pythian St.
Springfield, MO 65802
Tamara Finocchiaro, Owner
(417) 865-1464 • www.pythiancastle.com