Francis M. Drexel School Demolition

[‘FREEDOM CANNOT EXIST WITHOUT THE CONCEPT OF ORDER’]

The Francis M. Drexel School (1888) at 16th and Moore is coming down, according to the good folks at stresslines.org and thedrexelschool.org. The latter site is a fascinating yet perplexing compendium of Francis M. Drexel School materials–blueprints, overviews, quotes on the value of preservation, Drexel family genealogies, information on historic preservation tax credits, “uptown plans”,  addresses by late Drexel University president Constantine Papadakis, and advertisements for Newbold Court, the higher end development to occupy the site.  It’s tough to piece it all together–whether or not someone really cared about saving portions of the Queen Anne structure and incorporating it into the new development.  It’s all pretty nebulous because I can’t tell who–or what–writes thedrexelschool.org.

The fall of the Drexel School signals that something is going on in “Newbold”–the equally amorphous designation given to a wide swathe of what was formerly Point Breeze.  Truly, New?Bold! sounds like a marketing slogan first and a place second.  It was named after that captivating 19th century Philadelphian, banker and broker Arthur Emlen Newbold.  This isn’t to say that there’s much in a name.  I knew the guy personally who invented “G-Ho” who got into scrapes with others who wanted to call this ‘hood Anderson Yards after Marian Anderson.  Naming is power and the long section from Washington Ave. to Passyunk Ave. where housing prices creep upward is now a separatist state.  While violence has diminished in places like Newbold, skirmishes do still break out between ‘pioneers‘ and more indigenous populations.  This particular map shows how South Philly east and west of Broad looks like Metternich’s Europe: a tight network of mutually-reinforcing CDCs,  civic associations, and newly minted neighborhoods asserting themselves for the sake of peace and stability. 

More photos of the Drexel School from December 2007.

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7 thoughts on “Francis M. Drexel School Demolition

  1. A little history on the Newbold name. When some of the new residents started moving in here they began attending meetings of what they thought was their local neighborhood association, Point Breeze NA. They were surprised to find that the people at PBNA didn’t consider anything East of 18th street Point Breeze, leaving a huge void in neighborhood representation from Broad to 18th, Washington to Snyder.

    At that point we started doing research to find that the void has actually existed for a while. If you look back at city maps from the 70s through the 90s the area from Broad to 18th was a skinny little strip listed simply as “South Philadelphia,” with Point Breeze to its west.

    So there we were living in a place without a name and without any civic association. As we thought about what we would call our neighborhood group, we took into consideration that there was already a Newbold CDC, started by developer, John Longacre. We thought of other names and did research into the names of historical figures from the area or clever names using the beginning and ends of street names (my favorite was OSBRO for “other side of broad” which was what the people East always called our hood). Anyway, we didn’t find much but looking back at old maps we found that the first couple streets carved out in our hood in the mid 1880s were Castle and Newbold (now named Hicks). Seeing that there was already a CDC of the same name and that the street went straight through the center of our unnamed hood, we decided on Newbold for our civic association and have used it ever since.

    Just wanted to put this out there so people know that we didn’t just come down here and put a flag in the ground to declare ourselves independent of the “natives.” we thought we were Point Breeze and tried to get involved only to find out that we were on our own. So far that seems to be working out ok.

  2. My father purchased this building when I was six years old. I created and researched thedrexelschool.com and newboldcourts.com

    I have partnered with Mr.Longacre to develop this property a little over a year ago when my father suffered a stroke and left me control of the building. John and I along with some of the best developers in the city tried to come up with a plan to save the building, that is why all the research was done. The numbers did not work out to save, the real estate market tanked and the city ordered the building to be demo. What ever ultimately gets built this it will be the most documented property in Newbold. Once the building is gone the plans on for the land will be more clear, and the “news” will be shared to all. I created the both sites to let everyone know what’s going on. So stay tuned and keep things positive, we want it to be cool too!

  3. Hey Chris,

    I really enjoyed this post, especially you brief discussion on the power of names. I just had the same discussion with a friend about the same topic. It’s fascinating how the meanings we can draw from that process. I think we might need to meet soon for some Mexican and discuss neighborhoods.

    Keep up the great work.

    -Javier

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