A Tour Inside the Bok Building at 1901 S 9th Street
What is inside this building is truly remarkable, the people, their stories and creations. We were lucky enough to spend a day popping in and out of spaces occupied by entrepreneurs, artists, specialized manufacturers, and so much more. While we visited studios individually, we found that the people in the Bok Building have created their own community. There are creative and business partnerships within the building and tenants doing business with their neighbors. From finding Remark Glass pieces in various studios throughout the building to spotting Bicyclette furniture upstairs at Bok Bar, you start to see all the connections that make up this great mini neighborhood.
About the building
Originally built in 1936, Edward W. Bok Technical High School was a vocational school. Inside the school were dedicated spaces for teaching like auto body shops, wood shops, kitchens, science labs and classrooms. While the school merged into South Philadelphia High in 2013, the building (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and its existing infrastructure have been thoughtfully preserved and repurposed by development company Scout Ltd. Currently there are over 80,000 square feet within the building filled with jewelers, architects, furniture makers, fashion designers, milliners, product designers, artists, charitable organizations, and more.
About the building’s namesake
Edward Bok was many things: an immigrant success story, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, editor of Ladies Home Journal for 30 years, champion of environmental and social causes, advocate for public sex education, prenatal education and childcare. Although he passed in 1930, his legacy as a community leader and philanthropist, especially in Philadelphia where he served his tenure at the Journal. Side note - he married his boss’ daughter, Mary Louise Curtis, who went on to establish the Curtis Institute. That’s a next level power couple! #Couplesgoals
Bok helped popularize the Arts & Crafts style bungalow through his magazine and believed “more simplicity in our homes would make our lives simpler.” He made house plans available in his publications, promoting new architects like Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. He is credited for replacing parlors, traditionally reserved for guests, with the “living room,” a more practical space for families to enjoy each other’s company. He may have also thought women shouldn’t vote, but we are going to end on his influence in reforming American home design.
Who we visited
Two Persons Coffee (entrance at 812 Dudley St)
Named after the novel Two Persons: an Incident and an Epilogue by Edward Bok, Two Persons is all you hope for in a coffee shop: fresh baked goods, amazing blend, simple menu of drinks, and excellent service. They contract with local vendors, serving Passenger Coffee from Lancaster and baked goods from upstairs neighbors Machine Shop Bakery (we will get to them later.) The seating space makes it easy to enjoy your coffee, work, or chat with friends. Be sure to check out the bookshelf filled with vintage finds from the school.
Transport Cycles (entrance at 812 Dudley St)
A South Philly satellite for Firth & Wilson, Transport Cycles in the Bok building focuses on repairs but offers a selection of essential bike parts and accessories for purchase. It is located in tech school’s former auto body shop and right next to Two Persons Coffee, so you can get your flat repaired and pick up your daily caffeine in one visit. You can also rent a Shorty cargo bike to run your errands around town.
This women-owned glassblowing studio transforms used bottles into usable goods (that double as pieces of art) including barware, dinnerware, lighting fixtures and other home decor. We could have spent all day here learning about their process, the space, and their story while witnessing the energy that goes into every piece. They can create a gorgeous vase or bowl from your wedding champagne bottle or pendant lamps from your treasured antique wine collection, after you drink it of course. Their partnerships with local businesses to create zero-waste processes include building neighbors Franklin & Whitman and Bok Bar. Their products can be found on their website and at Art in the Age, another recycling partner.
This design-build woodworking studio creates a range of millwork products, furniture, and other one-of-a-kind products. (We 100% googled millwork...it includes any woodmill-produced building construction interior-finish, exterior-finish, or decorative components.) You can spot their work all over the city in residential and commercial spaces including Cheu Fishtown and Barnet Fair.
Keith and his team work with architects, artists, homeowners and designers to create products that are well designed, practical and hand crafted to last a lifetime.
When you walk into Franklin & Whitman headquarters, you are immediately swept into a blissful state by the scent of natural botanicals. Their skin care, hair care, men's grooming, and pet products are all natural, plant based, preservative free, and cruelty free. Franklin & Whitman also have a social and environmental mission, donating 5% of all sales to dog rescue organizations. Their products promote healthy looking skin with essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and they are named after our beloved Philadelphia neighborhoods. You can pick up products like East Passyunk Body Scrub or Old City Mineral Soak online or at United by Blue in Old City. We are adding these to our housewarming gift list!
Melanie is a world-renowned jewelry artist we are honored to know. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, the National Museum of Scotland, among others. She translates the historic art of Victorian hairwork into pieces that reflect upon the contemporary era, depicting ordinary moments of everyday life through self portrait photographs “drawn” in her own hair and set in metal or wood. She received a BFA from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 2000 and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 2010.
Stevie is a commercial and advertising photographer whose work almost seems surreal at times. He is the mastermind behind the flour-filled portraits of neighbors Emily and Katie, the bakers behind Machine Shop Boulangerie. Stevie works in Philadelphia and nationally with film composers, Ad agencies, and actors on networks like NBC, FOX, Cinemax, Comedy Central, Adult Swim and Netflix.
The geniuses behind this french-inspired, wholesale bakery make pastries and breads in the former shop class room. Get it...they are named Machine Shop? The are a female owned and have a combined background from Le Bec Fin, Brasserie Perrier, and Georges Perrier’s Art of Bread in addition to stints in the Bay Area, New England, and Paris. They apparently also make perfect descriptions because we can’t come up with a better one than what is on their site: “Machine Shop’s small-batch, handcrafted approach means every item we bake holds the same mouthwatering, meticulously-developed flavor. Time and patience is as much an ingredient in our dough as the diverse spices, grains, and herbs we use.” Yep, you probably want a croissant now. You can pick up one of their delicious creations at places like Alchemy, ReAnimator Coffee Roasters, Menagerie, and downstairs at Two Persons Coffee. A full list can be found here.
Ohm Chiropractic has a 30-year history of offering family wellness in Media and South Philly. In their bok location, Dr.Justin Ohm cares for children and adults, with a special emphasis in perinatal chiropractic - care for expectant mothers and their children. You can tell children are welcome as the waiting room doubles as a wonderful playspace with development toys. They collaborate with midwives, obstetricians, doulas, and lactation consultants, bringing educational classes and events to their space.
A full-service boutique design firm, Naomi Stein and her team work out of this Bok studio that has been transformed to showcase their work. We loved it so much, we took our team photos here! Naomi is known for her use of bold color, contrasting patterns and seemingly magical mixing of differing styles. She has designed and remodeled interiors, including kitchens and baths throughout the Main Line and greater Philadelphia area. Design manifest is committed to fostering a creative balance that is reflective of the individual needs and overall aesthetic of her every client.
From the handmade custom brass pulls to the thoughtful design to highlight its materials, this furniture line by Brian Christopher is simply beautiful. The solid wood furniture is rooted in timeless and utilitarian design, making use of materials such as American white oak, brass, steel & leather. Down the hall from their shop, Bicylette’s showroom in Studio 407 exhibits a selection of signature and custom pieces, as well as work from other various artists. It is situated in a former classroom that lends itself as the perfect backdrop for the clean lines and detailed work of the collection. If you can’t make it to the Bok, you can also order online, or contact them for custom projects.
This place is a gem. Irwin’s Upstairs is part cocktail bar, rooftop, modern-industrial living room, and mediterranean fare. Offering libations, mezze, and other small and large plates, it is a great spot to enjoy with friends or a date. Irwin’s is named after Irwin T. Catherine, architect of the building and chief architect of Philadelphia public schools in the early 20th century. He helped modernize public schools, adding crucial elements like recreational spaces, indoor restrooms, and cafeterias. Hidden city has a great article about him that gives him much needed credit in Philadelphia history.
With 340,000 square feet of total space and only a quarter of it filled, the building’s multi-phased project has more to grow. We look forward to seeing what amazing people and stories will contribute to this micro-neighborhood in the near future.
You can take your own tour of the Bok during Philadelphia Open Studio Tours in a few weeks. Visit philaopenstudios.org/partner-profile/bok for details.