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  1. #1
    Radical Ed's Avatar
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    Default Goodbye Northeast Manual



    The former Northeast Manual Training High School looks as if it had been plucked from the Princeton campus and dropped into the middle of North Philadelphia. Constructed in 1903 at the intersection of North 8th Street and West Lehigh Avenue, the “Collegiate Gothic” building has walls of granite, traceried windows, and gargoyles sprouting from the central tower. The auditorium boasted a magnificent pipe organ. This was not a school for the rich and privileged, but for the sons of working class Philadelphians. The School Board believed that traditional beauty could be a form of uplift for the students, most of whom lived in tightly-packed, tree-less neighborhoods, befouled by smoke from the surrounding factories. Architect Lloyd Titus followed his client’s wishes, and created a dignified structure that loomed dreamily above the neighborhood’s squat rowhouses and warehouses.

    It is an edifice built to last. Over a century after its completion, there is not a crack in the foundations and walls are still plumb and level.

    Yet on August 3, 2011, the school caught fire and the upper floors were completely burned out. Nothing short of a total gut-renovation could make it fit for reuse. The school, most recently known as the Julia DeBurgos Middle Magnet School, had been closed two years before the conflagration. Because it was not properly sealed, the old school became a magnet for squatters, drug-addicts, and vandals, and quickly fell into ruin. The four-alarm fire, possibly the result of arson, was the coup de grace.

    Last Tuesday, I stood with demolition superintendent Devon Jackson in the groin-vaulted Gothic vestibule of the school’s auditorium, just as demolition started. It was a dreary, gray day. Rain spat through the vacant windows, and bright construction lights shone through the swirling dust. Piles of rubble filled the courtyard. A few weeds still clung tenaciously to life, poking through the debris.

    “The toughest part of the demolition is removing all the wood from the structure,” Devon explained. It was not just in the floor planks and joists, but also buried behind plaster walls. Much of the wood that escaped the fire was either water-damaged or had succumbed to rot.

    I asked Devon if it was OK for me to step into the auditorium. It was a cavernous space, two stories high. The stage, surrounded by crumbling plaster moulding, still remained. A tattered blue curtain shung from the proscenium. The seats had already been removed, the flooring material ripped up. The pipe organ once stood behind the stage.

    Eric Smith, Jackson’s supervisor at A.T. Russell Construction (the company in charge of demolishing the school), was alerted to the long-sealed organ shortly after demolition started, but by the time he arrived to photograph it, his workers had dismantled the instrument. While wandering through the school, Smith saw pitiful reminders of the squatters who used the squalid structure as their home. One illegal tenant had set up a suite of sorts, using a room for discarding his soiled clothes, one as a closet, and another as his bedroom. Since the building had no working plumbing, he poked a hole in a chair and used it as a toilet. Bottles he used for urination lay scattered around the space.

    Taking down such a massive structure is no easy task, yet Smith predicts that his team of about 20 men will demolish it in a mere three months. The first task is to gut the interior and salvage anything of value. Unusable wood components will be shredded into mulch, and sheetrock pulverized into gypsum fertilizer. The 10-inch veneer of exterior granite, as well as the gargoyles, cornices, and window tracery, will be sold to architectural salvage dealers, who have found a brisk market for such elegant pieces of history. Men wielding sledgehammers and a swinging wrecking ball will then knock down the brick-and-masonry structural walls.

    Smith knows he has a job to do and that economically the building is probably beyond saving. Yet he still regrets its destruction. “It’s a shame to see a building like that torn down,” he said. “You take a school hat’s been around for 110 years and then replace it with a Save-A-Lot, Burger King or a sneaker store. Change is necessary, but it would be nice if there was a better way to preserve structures like that. Even if you tried to save a portion of the building and preserve the history of the site.”
    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    Last edited by Radical Ed; 11-24-2012 at 01:00 PM.
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    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    A beautifully written elegy for a grand structure fallen from grace, Radical Ed. Do you do stuff like this on a regular basis? If so, please PM me.

    Also: the building shows how place names migrate as well. No one in today's Philadelphia would consider 8th and Lehigh "Northeast." (The building predates the initial segment of the Northeast (Roosevelt) Boulevard by eight years.)

    If I'm not mistaken, the institutional descendant of this school is Northeast High School (1957) at Cottman and Whitaker avenues.
    Sandy Smith, Wanderer in Germantown, Philadelphia
    Editor-in-Chief, Philly Living Blog - but all opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.
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    O.H. Lee is offline Senior Member
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    8th and Lehigh is now almost the geographic center of Philadelphia.

    Great story and photos btw.
    "We do sincerely hope you all enjoy the show, and please remember people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there are still some things that make us all the same. You, me, them, everybody, everybody!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarketStEl View Post
    A beautifully written elegy for a grand structure fallen from grace, Radical Ed. Do you do stuff like this on a regular basis? If so, please PM me.

    Also: the building shows how place names migrate as well. No one in today's Philadelphia would consider 8th and Lehigh "Northeast." (The building predates the initial segment of the Northeast (Roosevelt) Boulevard by eight years.)

    If I'm not mistaken, the institutional descendant of this school is Northeast High School (1957) at Cottman and Whitaker avenues.

    This is indeed the institutional parent of NEHS at Cottman between Glendale and Algon.
    I am not the Jackass Whisperer.

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    Radical Ed's Avatar
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    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    MarketStEl's Avatar
    MarketStEl is offline Will Work for Food, But Prefers Cash
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    Quote Originally Posted by O.H. Lee View Post
    8th and Lehigh is now almost the geographic center of Philadelphia.

    Great story and photos btw.
    It would have been the geographic center of the city since 1854; its boundaries haven't changed since then. What has changed is the built-up area. In 1903, 8th and Lehigh would have been in the northeastern part of that, and there would have been some open land between there and Frankford, the largest settlement in what is now the northeast part of the developed city.
    Sandy Smith, Wanderer in Germantown, Philadelphia
    Editor-in-Chief, Philly Living Blog - but all opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.
    ""Jazz and blogging are both intimate, improvisational, and individual -- but also inherently collective. And the audience talks over both." --Andrew Sullivan, "Why I Blog," The Atlantic, November 2008

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    Radical Ed's Avatar
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    Thanks for the kind words, folks!
    I didn't write that piece on the school, just copy/pasted it when I found it.
    The photos however, were taken by me over the last few years.



    Last edited by Radical Ed; 11-25-2012 at 02:34 PM.
    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
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    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    Thanks Ed. I appreciate the great pics. This was on the national historic register so the current owners could have gotten tax credits for reusing it, even if it meant gutting the inside and keeping the outside in tact. I agree with your statement that a few crappy pad sites are an inferior substitute especially since there are already five full-serive grocery stores within an easy walk of this site. This is in a weak commercial market already and adding more retail when incomes of the population are so low isn't going to help one bit.

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    It would've made a beautiful office building or private school.

    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    "Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd..."
    "...Smiling."

    Pink Floyd

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    AsYouWere is offline Banned
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    Quote Originally Posted by Radical Ed View Post
    I like how the ceiling light fixtures blend right in.

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    InYourVacancies is offline Blight Enthusiast
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    Quote Originally Posted by MarketStEl View Post
    If I'm not mistaken, the institutional descendant of this school is Northeast High School (1957) at Cottman and Whitaker avenues.
    Little sidenote, the institutional ancestor of this school once stood at Howard and Hancock by Girard Station. This is from the 1895 Philadelphia Atlas



    R.I.P. to another beauty.

 

 

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