Feb 3, 2018
When Philadelphia's Northeast Manual Training School opened its doors in 1905, the idea of a public high school to prepare poor boys to work in modern industrial trades was progressive, even radical. But Philly was booming with industry--in fact, just a block over from the new school building was the Quaker Lace factory, with over a hundred clattering power looms that could be heard in every classroom.
The building itself was collegiate Gothic in style, with gargoyles all around and a crenellated turret in the middle.
The school changed its name and mission several times; it became a comprehensive high school, originally for boys only, named Northeast, until 1957, when a new Northeast High School was built in the new residential district closer to the edge of the city.
Then the building became Edison High, which achieved a particularly sad notoriety: no other high school in America outdid Edison in graduating young menwho were killed in the Vietnam War. Sixty-four Edison alumni are memorialized on a bronze plaque outside the school.
But since 1992, Edison High School has operated in a different building a few blocks away, and that's where the bronze memorial sits today. The original school site was used briefly for a bilingual middle school and then abandoned altogether, like almost all the mills, factories, and foundries that surround it.
In 2010, the lace factory burned to the ground, in an eight-alarm blaze attributed to arson; it is said that drug dealers in the neighborhood burned the long-abandoned structure because they believed police were using it as an observation post.
In 2011, the old Manual Training School building also burned, in a fire also deemed suspicious in origin. The site was under contract to a developer who wanted to put a shopping center there.
Remains of the school were demolished a few months later, but the gargoyles, it was said, were carefully preserved for use somewhere else. Where? We have not been able to find out.