Built from 1935-1937 in a gorgeous Art Deco style, the Edward W. Bok School was named after a Dutch author and editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, which was noted as being one of the most influential publications in American domestic architecture of its time. The school was designed by Irwin Catherine, architect of dozens of Philadelphia schools, and was completed by the Public Works Administration. In keeping with the trends of the time, the Bok School taught carpentry, culinary arts, and other vocational disciplines including “brick laying, plastering, plumbing, machine building, tailoring, and hairdressing” (Wikipedia).
It was one of 23 Philadelphia schools closed in 2013 as a result of a budget shortfall. The property was put up for sale the following year and purchased by Scout, who opened a rooftop beer garden called Le Bok Fin, a mashup up the school’s name and that of a high end Philadelphia restaurant. Scout has been attracting mixed use tenants to the 340,000 square foot building, as chronicled in their website, Building Bok.
As of 2022, Bok is home to a diverse array of cultural institutions, stores, and artists – including photographers, cooks, dance studios, salons, media producers, textile workers, and ceramics. Free weekly tours have been cancelled for the moment due to Covid, but patrons are encouraged to contact the individual businesses if they’d like to set up appointments. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting fate for a school that taught trades than to become home to those that practice many of the skills that were taught there, and the space is perfectly suited to serve as a hub for creative folk. My photographs are from the limited window between uses, but I’m excited to revisit it to see it thriving once more. In a city that demolishes so much of its historic architecture, it’s refreshing to see a space not only reused, but in a way that benefits the community and small entrepreneurs.
Matthew Christopher PA Philadelphia Jan 05, 2022 History