Recently-restored sign holds historic value

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Thanks to the efforts of First State Bank and painter Ken Hines, a remnant of earlier times in Socorro has been restored to its original appearance.

John Larson - El Defensor Chieftain: Ken Hines re-painted the historic K. of P. Hall building advertisement.

The Owl Cigar advertising sign on the former Knights of Pythias building on Manzanares Street had faded considerably since it was originally painted, well before 1916. Hines was commissioned to repaint the artwork in the spring.

First State Bank’s Holm Bursum III said the sign was an important reminder of busier times on Manzanares Street and Socorro in general.

“The railroad came through in 1882, and Socorro, Valencia and Dona Ana counties got most of the trackage. Bernalillo not so much,” Bursum said. “Those were boom times.”

“Manzanares was originally the main street, the main business district, in Socorro, from the railroad station to the corner of where California is now,” Bursum said. “That’s why it’s much wider than a regular street. It gets narrower after it crosses California.”

He said California St. was so named because “that was the way to California. It went around Kittrell Park and led to Blue Canyon Road, which was the main road west.”

The building which now houses Dr. Steven Woodard’s Eye Care Center of Socorro was built by the fraternal organization, Knights of Pythias, a secret society founded in 1864 dedicated to universal peace and goodwill.

Although some renovations have been made, Bursum has strived to maintain the original architecture and features of the structure, the building is now on the registry of historic building in New Mexico.

Dating the construction has been difficult, and many records have been lost, but a close inspection of the bottom of one the cast iron facade columns indicates the building was built in 1885.

“It was very unusual for a fraternal organization to build a building like the Knights of Pythias building, but this was during the silver boom times, when Socorro had a population of around 25,000,” Bursum said. “Another example of Socorro’s booming activity during these times is the Masonic Lodge built by the Masons and the present location of Gambles True Value Hardware and the Socorro Chamber of Commerce.”

He said the K.P. building was designed to serve two purposes.

“The Knights of Pythias lodge was upstairs and the downstairs was rented out to businesses,” Bursum said. “A staircase to the second floor lodge was located on the left side of the interior.”

It was removed in the early 1970 after First State Bank took over ownership, and is now in storage.

According to a notice in the May 11, 1888, edition of The Socorro Chieftain newspaper, the Knights of Pythias, Rio Grande Lodge No. 3, met every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at “Castle Mall in Harrison block.”

Bursum said the facade has been kept intact, as well as much of the interior design.

“It still has the original pressed tin ceilings, 14 feet high,” he said. “In those days there was no air conditioning. They needed high ceilings to provide better air circulation.”

The upper floor also retains pressed tin ceilings.

As for the retouching of the Owl Cigar advertisement, Bursum said the dating of the sign had to be confirmed by an archivist with the Consolidated Cigar Company.

“The color of the owl held the key,” he said. “According to the company’s archivist, if the owl was brown the sign was painted prior to 1916.” The owl on the building’s brick wall was, in fact, a faded brown.

The firm of Straiton & Storm, makers of Owl Cigars and for years one the countries largest cigar manufacturers, was bought out by the White Owl Cigar Co. in 1916.

When that happened the original brown owl was repainted white.

“The Knights of Pythias still exist in Socorro, by the fact they own the building across from the fire station on Fisher Street, the old Episcopal church,” Bursum said.