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NOVO/Central Manual Training School

"Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing. With tools he is all."

                                                                   Thomas Carlyle, 19th century Scottish essayist


The Baldwin Park neighborhood will shortly have ten new neighbors, living in huge town homes at the corner of 17th and Wood Streets. Some of these 5000-6000 square-foot houses are already occupied, and each comes with a significant price tag, the southwest corner unit selling for $3.65 million. This development is being called the "NOVOphilly" development (see marketing site here), but this article will discuss the prior buildings at this corner. 

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Marketing image of NOVOphilly development in red rectangle as seen from the southwest.

Philadelphia development began on the Delaware River around 1680 and progressed westward at a rate of  about one block per decade. The future Baldwin Park neighborhood was bordered by industry to its east in the mid-nineteenth century, still with many open lots. In 1868, on a lot on the east side of 17th Street between Wood and Carlton Streets, the Fifteenth Section School, also known as the Hoffman School, opened in a new building. It was a public primary school and would vacate the building in 1885 in favor of a new type of high school.

As noted in the article on Hallahan High School, the Baldwin Park neighborhood was a trend setter in early high school education. Hallahan was the first diocesan girls' high school in the United Sates, opening in 1911. The Girls' High and Normal School opened at 17th and Spring Garden Streets in 1876, and remained as the Girls' High School after the Normal School moved to a new building at 13th and Spring Garden.

Another innovation in secondary education occurred on Tuesday, September 1, 1885, at the northeast corner of Wood and 17th Streets. On that date the Central Manual Training School opened in the old Hoffman School Building. The neighborhood was the center of heavy industry in Philadelphia at the time, dominated by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Industrialists wanted a work force that had not only a liberal education, but also one grounded in the industrial arts. The school district recognized the need to develop mind and hand to benefit these industries. But the Central Manual Training School was not a trade school, and effort was put into creating a complete high school curriculum, which included rotations through the manual arts of drafting, wood working, bricklaying, and metal work. The goal was not to teach a trade, but to develop problem solving ability across multiple disciplines. Shop exercises were not mere recipes for construction, but problems to be solved. The school was not a lesser version of a high school, but a high school with manual training integrated into the curriculum. Calling the school a trade school then would be as comparable an insult as calling the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a trade school today.

The school proved very popular. Attendance in high school, then not mandatory, and graduation rates were increased by giving students opportunities to work with their hands. In 1886 a one-story addition was placed to the east of the main building, and the iron foundry and iron workshop were housed there. In 1895 another annex of four rooms was added. Other trades schools were started in northeast and south Philadelphia.

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The Central Manual Training School in 1897, after the two additions, looking northeast.


Courses for the 1886 school year.

One student graduating in the class of 1889 was Jules Mastbaum, who then went on to obtain a degree in finance at Penn. He opened the first nickleodeon in Philadelphia at 8th and Market Streets, accumulating more theaters until he owned 259 and had the largest theater chain in the world. He purchased many sculptures by Rodin in the three years before his death in 1926, and his donation to the City of these works and the Rodin Museum building, completed in 1929, left a lasting legacy in the neighborhood.

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The Central Manual Training School in 1906, looking from northwest. 

The Edward Harrington Sons & Company building on the far left was built in 1903 after his original building, at 15th Street on the Reading Railroad subway, was sold to Baldwin Locomotive Works. It is now occupied by the Lofts at Logan View Apartments.

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Photo from 1908 showing brickwork class. 

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This large stationary Corliss engine, which had been in the Central Manual Training School, is now displayed in the Smithsonian's American History Museum in Washington DC.

The Corliss engine improved on prior engines, and the first version, at 40-foot tall, was displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Fairmount Park. Engines like this allowed factories to be at a remove from falling water as a source of power. Coal made steam and the steam powered multiple machines via complex linkages made via belts. Later, these engines were used to make electricity which was then transferred to individual motors at each machine.

Matthias Baldwin's first stationary steam engine from 1832 is also on display nearby in this room in the Smithsonian.


Plaque at Smithsonian describing provenance of the engine from the Central Manual Training School and then the Franklin Institute.

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Detail from Bromley map from 1922. The Central Manual Training School is in the lower left. 

The Edward Harrington Sons & Company building is just north of the school. The Factory Lofts building is the former C. C. Knight Metal Works building erected in 1909. It is now the 1600 Callowhill Apartments, as discussed here.

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Detail from city land use map of 1942. The Central Manual Training School has been demolished, and replaced in 1937 by the two-story United News Company, which moved from 17th and Vine Streets. 17th Street runs vertically up the middle of this image.

City zoning permit history for this site since 1937 is here.

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Less expensive real estate at the site, built in 1937, before demolition in 2017.

This building housed a magazine distributor; then a plate glass and mirror sales office; then in 1973 a trade school (again) for basic electrical repairs of household items; then offices.

This block was spared the demolitions of the Franklin Town development which occurred to the west, north, and south in the 1970s, as discussed here. In 2012 the building at 17th and Wood Streets was sold and plans were proposed for a five story mixed use building, as discussed here. That fell through and the buildings of the Church of the Latter Day Saints were built surrounding this site, turning the corner into a very quiet spot. Ten town homes are being completed as I write. The eastern half of the block is prime real estate as well, currently owned by the Flynn Company.


Rendering presented to and approved by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association in 2012, looking towards northeast.

This rendering was not actually rendered.


December 2019 view of five town homes of phase 1 along the north side of Wood Street, looking east.

NOVO Properties based in Washington DC is the developer, but I like to imagine that the name NOVOphilly for this development has its origin in the very New York-y acronym "North Of the Vine Street Overpass."


Five town homes making up phase 2 along the south side of Carlton Street in December 2019, looking east.

There is a driveway for garage access between Wood and Carlton Streets. There are three-car garages at every unit, with six-stop elevators from the garages.


The two-story building of the Flynn Company at 1615-21 Wood Street just east of NOVOphilly. 

The 2020 assessed value of building and 9,603 square foot lot is $3,167,200, about the same price as one of the ten new town homes. The parking lot at 1623 Wood Street is also owned by Flynn with 8,937 square feet and an assessed value of $1,896,200.

These combined plots would support 14 more town homes.

As noted, the Franklin Town Development Project approved in 1971 excluded the blocks from Wood Street north to Callowhill Street and west of 16th Street to 17th Street. The 100-year-old structures on the south side of the 1600 block of Wood Street, just across the street from the five new town homes on Wood Street, were demolished in 1974. A few sample photos from 1971, all from, are below.

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Looking southeast from the north side of Wood Street to the south side and 1616 Wood Street in 1971, 4 months before City Council would approve the condemnation and demolition of this side of Wood Street.

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1634 Wood Street, looking south, in August 1971.

The building in the distance is the current Phoenix Condos, but in 1971 was the headquarters for the Insurance Company of North America.

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1642-1644 Wood Street in August 1971.

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1637 Wood Street, on the north side of the street, from the southeast. The building on the far left is the building that was demolished in 2017 on the northeast corner of 17th and Wood Streets. The sign on the east wall at 1637 Wood Street (right center) directs customers to the Franklin Hopkins Glass Company at 1639 Wood Street. The glass shop opened there in 1969.

The same view today is pictured below.

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This parcel at 17th and Wood, intact for centuries, is now being broken up into individual residence-sized parcels. As the deed abstract below shows, the empty property was acquired by the City of Philadelphia for school use in 1866 from the ubiquitous lawyer John G. Palairet, who later would argue a case in the United States Supreme Court. The City since 1866 has been the owner of greatest duration, not selling the parcel until 1937. Since then the property ownership has turned over many times.


Deed abstract from 1866 when the City of Philadelphia acquired the western part of the current property. Seventy more feet of frontage on Carlton and Wood Streets would be acquired soon after this transaction, giving the property its current boundaries.

authored by Joe Walsh, January 2020

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