- Posted January 24, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Abandoned on Broad: Philly's Divine Lorraine Hotel
Undoubtedly one of Philadelphia's most revered and mystifying buildings, the graffiti-laden Divine Lorraine hulks over the corner of North Broad & Fairmount, an icon of blight and wastefulness at the center of a neighborhood desperately awaiting its revival with bated breath.
The brainchild of architect Willis G. Hale, the 10-story Romanesque beauty first opened its doors as the Lorraine Apartments in 1894, catering largely to the upper classes busy making fortunes from the manufacturing boom in North Philadelphia. The Lorraine was the true pinnacle of luxury in its time, boasting full electricity, two gigantic penthouse ballrooms, and a talented staff that pushed private servants into a state of obsolescence.
The Metropolitan Hotel Company purchased the building just a few years after it opened in 1900 and renamed it the Lorraine Hotel. It remained prosperous until the Great Depression, and would slowly deteriorate before being sold to Reverend Major Jealous Divine in 1948 for $485,000 (about $4.4 million today).
Father Divine, founder of the International Peace Mission Movement, was an interesting character to say the least. The stubby religious leader made Philadelphia his home after fleeing from Harlem amidst accusations of abandonment, sexual misconduct, contempt of court, and loose ties with the Communist Party.
Father Divine immediately renamed the building the Divine Lorraine Hotel and opened its doors to people of all races and classes, effectively marking it as the first racially integrated building of its kind in the nation. With the Benjamin Franklin House having shunned Jackie Robinson just one year prior, a mixed-race anything was a big deal at the time. Guests, however, were required to follow Divine's rules. That meant no drinking, no smoking, no profanity, and sharing quarters with the opposite sex was forbidden. The two penthouse ballrooms were transformed into worship halls while the ground floor kitchen was opened to the public as a low-cost alternative for hungry Philadelphians.
After Divine's death in 1965, the movement lost traction and some of his teachings were adapted by radical leader Jim Jones. Jones, who is said to have met with Divine in the building several times, went on to lead more than 900 people to their deaths by drinking cyanide-laced juice in the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. So the next time you hear somebody talking about "drinking the Kool Aid," you'd be perfectly justified in thinking of the Divine Lorraine.
The Divine Lorraine was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and currently rests in the hands of developer Eric Blumenfeld, who purchased the property in 2012 and declared his commitment to its rebirth. Sadly, the hotel was completely gutted in 2006 and only the structural steel and exterior shell remains. The interior is completely barren -- no carpets, no bathtubs, no books. It's all gone.
All is quiet on the Blumenfeld front these days. A wide range of uses for the Divine Lorraine have been discussed, but it seems most likely that the building will be rehabbed as loft apartments with a restaurant anchoring the ground floor. Regardless, it's time to really get the ball rolling and bring the Divine Lorraine back to life.