The north side of the 700 block of Lehigh Avenue is home to a suburban style shopping center with a Save-a-Lot, a Family Dollar, a Kicks USA, and a Burger King. Generally, we wouldn’t care for such a shopping center, as we prefer smaller businesses that are integrated into the urban fabric that don’t include a sea of parking. From what we understand though, people who live nearby deeply appreciate the existence of this shopping center, not only because it adds amenities to the neighborhood, but because of what it replaced when it was constructed a couple years ago.
It was back in 2013 that we first covered this property, also providing the history of the site. Briefly, a gorgeous school was constructed here back in 1903 in the Collegiate Gothic Revival style, and this school eventually evolved into Northeast High School. As the condition of the school began to deteriorate and the neighborhood became more diverse, Northeast High moved to a location in the Northeast in 1957, taking along the school’s history and most of its white students. The racially motivated nature of this move was not lost on the families that remained at the school, which was renamed Edison High.
As we said, the condition of the school was declining and with the continued passage of time this situation only got worse. After pushing for a new home for years, Edison finally moved to a new location in 1988, with a middle school taking over the building until 2002. At that point, and probably years before, the building was unusable as a school, but the school district maintained ownership of the vacant and poorly secured property. For a decade, the school building was a terrible nuisance for the surrounding community, as it attracted vandals, squatters, and criminals. A four-alarm fire in 2011 left the building in the condition you see in the image above, seemingly past the point of feasible renovation. Ironically, it was just a month before the fire that a partnership between Orens Brothers and Mosaic Development Partners entered into an agreement to purchase the property from the School District. When we wrote about the property, we had just learned that the first phase of the project, the demolition of most of the school and the construction of the shopping center, would indeed move forward as planned. That has clearly happened.
You’ll note in the image of the shopping center, there’s a vacant building in the background, with frontage on Somerset Street. That’s the Edison High School Annex, built as an addition to the original school. When we last covered the property, we told you that this Art Deco building could eventually get converted into low-income housing for seniors. And as the shopping center project materialized, we can now tell you that the low-income housing conversion is also set to move forward. The plan has changed a little, with @genbrewerytown sharing that the 66 units will specifically target homeless veterans, and that the plans include a social services office on the first floor. The project will be called Edison 64, after the 64 Edison graduates who lost their lives in Vietnam.
Here’s a rendering, with credit to the Orens Brothers website.
It’s a shame indeed that the entire building that once stood here could not be repurposed, but we’re grateful to see that at least part of the former school will live on. Further, the conversion of the building will help a population in dire need of housing and additional services, makes the project even more important.