Former Edison High building burns

The cause of last week’s blaze re­mains un­deter­mined.

Black, ac­rid smoke filled the air on Wed­nes­day that could be seen for miles as the 107-year-old former North­east Pub­lic High School sat en­gulfed in flames.

Ac­cord­ing to Capt. Jef­fery Thompson of the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment, the fire, ini­tially re­por­ted at about 1:30 in the af­ter­noon at the long-va­cant school build­ing at Sev­enth Street and Le­high Av­en­ue, quickly grew in­to a four-alarm fire that took the ef­forts of about 120 fire­fight­ers and 22 dif­fer­ent pieces of equip­ment to get un­der con­trol.

The graf­fiti-littered struc­ture, which was owned by the Phil­adelphia School Dis­trict un­til it was re­cently sold to a new de­veloper, has been va­cant since 2002. 

As of Fri­day, Aug. 5, fire­fight­ers con­sider the cause of the blaze “un­deter­mined,” said Thompson. 

“Right now, with the amount of dam­age, the loc­a­tion of the fire and wit­ness in­ter­views, we are un­able to de­term­ine the cause of the fire,” he said. 

The fire of­fi­cial said the first fire­men on the scene were from En­gine 2, housed at Second and York streets. He said the fire, which the de­part­ment be­lieves began on the top floor of the build­ing, quickly spread, with a second alarm sent out at around 2 p.m. and the fourth alarm sent out at about 2:32 p.m.

The fire was un­der con­trol by 3:32 p.m. 

Also about 25 homes in the area were evac­u­ated to pro­tect res­id­ents from any danger in case the build­ing col­lapsed. 

In the days fol­low­ing the fire, Thompson said, in­vest­ig­at­ors have combed through the build­ing “on their hands and knees” look­ing for a cause of the fire, to no avail.

Fire of­fi­cials may yet change their stance, if they do in­deed de­term­ine a cause of the fire, but “they don’t want to say any­thing cit­ing a spe­cif­ic cause in case they aren’t sure,” he said.  

The school has had a long, not­able his­tory in the com­munity, as Star his­tor­i­an Ken Mil­ano re­por­ted back in May.

The former high school was ori­gin­ally foun­ded in 1904 as a lar­ger school for the rap­idly grow­ing North­east Manu­al Train­ing School, a school for boys that was foun­ded by Kens­ing­ton-based man­u­fac­turer Isaac Shep­pard. 

As pres­id­ent of the Phil­adelphia Board of Edu­ca­tion, Mil­ano found, Shep­pard per­son­ally donated $1,500 to af­ford schol­ar­ships for the first 100 boys to at­tend the school. 

However, this was be­fore the now-burned build­ing was built. When the North­east Manu­al Train­ing School first opened its doors in 1890, it was housed in un­used space in the W. A. Lee School build­ing on Howard Street near Gir­ard Av­en­ue. 

Here the boys would de­vote their days to aca­dem­ic study for three hours a day while they worked for two hours a day in shops for in­dus­tri­al work, like weld­ing and carving. An­oth­er hour would be de­voted to draw­ing. 

The first year, the school had 53 stu­dents.

In 12 years, the school was already out­grow­ing its home in the Lee school build­ing and an old shoe store at Second Street and Gir­ard Av­en­ue, Mil­ano wrote, be­came the school’s first an­nex for North­east.

In 1904, con­struc­tion of the of­fi­cial school build­ing for North­east Manu­al Train­ing School began on the former Dis­trict of Kens­ing­ton reser­voir site and the next year the school opened for classes. 

In 1957, the school, now simply known as North­east Pub­lic High School, moved to 1601 Cottman Av­en­ue, where it stands today. 

The build­ing served as Edis­on High School un­til 1998. It closed in 2002, after it was known as Ju­lia De­Bur­gos Bi­lin­gual Middle School. 

Thompson said he knew the build­ing had been sold by the city’s school dis­trict to de­velopers re­cently, but he was not sure of any plans for the site. ••

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­ 

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