The Northeast Manual Training School in Philadelphia (known later as the Julia de Burgos Magnet Middle School and finally Thomas A. Edison High School) was originally built in 1905 in Fairhill. It was a time when the idea of a publicly funded free school for the working class was progressive and controversial. Structured like a medieval castle, with turrets, stone lions flanking the entrance, and gargoyles encrusting the cornices, Northeast High School was a prestigious institution that taught trades to area students. Albert Einstien, Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover, and Amelia Earhart were among the dignitaries who visited the school, but as the minority population in the neighborhood increased it was decided in the 1950s that a new Northeast High School school would be built at Cottman and Algon Aves. and the old school, now named Edison High School, was left to deteriorate due to systematic neglect.
By the 1990s it was infested with rats and falling apart; fewer than fifty percent of the math teachers could do basic math themselves, textbooks were outdated or nonexistent, and outbursts and violence were commonplace. Named the worst school in the Philadelphia, Edison High School was taken over by a private contractor (Edison) who was to provide education. They built a new building and closed the older one shortly thereafter in 2002, and left it to vandalism and decay. I am still unclear about when Edison became Julia de Burgos.
After nearly a decade of neglect, a four alarm blaze broke out in the school in August of 2011, causing heavy damage to the upper floors. While it took 18 fire engines to control the blaze and much of the roof was destroyed, much of the building was unaffected. Aside from several sections where the floor would need repaired, it appeared to be structurally sound. At present the castle-like front portion of the building is being torn down and much of it is destined for a landfill, with salvage operations underway to save some of the architectural features by the Philadelphia Salvage Company. Two story piles of textbooks still in excellent condition and enormous jumbled stacks of hardwood from the floors and walls were thrown in huge heaps in the courtyard, likely to be thrown out because of the time constraints on the salvage operations. The distinctive gargoyles on the turrets are being saved, however, and will be placed on another building sometime in the future. The art deco rear of the building is being gutted and is slated to be restored to use.
Ultimately the rear half of the building was renovated into a veterans’ housing community while the majority of the building – the more architecturally significant part – was razed and is now a small shopping center with a Burger King and a Save A Lot store.