In 2015, South Philly’s Bok school became semi-famous for its rooftop bar. It was both praised (for adaptive reuse of the creative sort) and derided (for adaptive reuse of the gentrifying sort), but it was generally successful.
So successful that not only is the bar back again this summer, but there’s a lot more going on at the former Bok Technical High School than just drinks with a skyline view.
Currently, there are about 45 businesses and organizations calling Bok home, with another ten to fifteen slated to join in the fall. Development company Scout Ltd., which snapped up the structure after it was shuttered in 2013 by the School District of Philadelphia, hardly even had to do any scouting for tenants. Artists, designers, and tinkerers of all sorts have flocked to the building through word of mouth.
A lot of the space is private studios, but there are several spots that are open to the public, from retail shops to playgrounds. Here’s a rundown of what to visit at the Bok this year.
Think of Maarket as Bok’s museum gift shop. Opened by the team behind South Street’s Maark Concept, an indie boutique that won Best of Philly this year for its selection of local designer wares, the shop sits strategically just outside the main elevators that bring people up to Bok Bar.
“People are really surprised there’s a store here,” said Nicole Haddad, one of Maarket’s founders. “Especially if they’re just waiting for the elevator.”
An oversized cat cutout at the entrance by co-founder Melissa Choy’s husband, artist Tin Wei Lin, draws customers inside, where they can peruse 3D-printed jewelry, dresses, tees, hats, handbags and more. Most of the wares are local. Several are extremely local, as in, made in the same building.
Bok neighbors that have goods at Maarket include milliner Whisler Civilian, 3D-printed jewelry maker Maria Ice, jewelry designer Nuance, glassblower Remark and Lobo Mau, a clothing label owned by Haddad. The shop is open 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays through the end of summer
After 26 years on East Passyunk (the first 20 as Ruth Daneman Salon), this South Philly staple moved into Bok room 505 on Aug. 3. Men, women and children are welcome to stop by or schedule an appointment for cuts, trims, color work, blowouts and formal styling. There’s also waxing and skin treatments available, and everything comes with a side of free “cat therapy” from the salon’s live-in feline, Uli. Stylists are available Wednesday through Sunday.
After a haircut, visitors can head down the fifth floor hallway to Metta for some massage therapy. Therapist Hollace Detwiler, who’s trained in everything from Deep Tissue to Reiki, has been practicing since 2006 and has studios in Rittenhouse and on Passyunk Avenue. In mid-August, he opened another spot at the Bok. NB: Sessions are by appointment only, so make sure to call in advance.
This installation by Klip Collective has taken over the former girl’s gymnasium with a profusion of projected words, shapes and images, all of which have something to do with the Bok High School. The piece is the first in a series that aims to recapture memories of forgotten spaces.
The result looks kind of like a newspaper exploded into a galaxy of words and phrases, all of which bounce and weave through mountains of upended school furniture. Sound plays a big role, and archival recordings, interviews and ambient noises play intermittently, enhancing the visuals.
Vacant America will be open through September for private viewings.
There’s a new dog park that opened earlier this year as part of a larger project to improve the ninth street edge of the building and make it more of a public space. Thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation, Scout also made general improvements that include landscaping and seeding as well as adding bicycle racks and a bike repair station, complete with tools.
This play-based school for kids 2½ to 5 years old was founded in 2005 in Elkins Park. This September, it opens a second location at the Bok, and the connected outdoor play space will be open to the public during off hours.
More to come?
The building interior doesn’t have the same kind of foot traffic as a city street, so there’s no guarantee more retail shops will open in the various available spaces.
“We have rooms that are 200 square feet, and rooms that are 7000 square feet,” said Liz Maillie, a development manager at Scout. “Our thought has always been that is such a large building that it will serve a lot of different kinds of companies and organizations and individuals.”
No matter what does come next to the space, Scout is interested in making sure the Bok continues to host events that draw people in.
“We see various different kinds of activities and programming that would be open to the public,” Maillie predicted. “There will be more and more activities that people and the community can get involved with.”