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The Divine Lorraine Hotel

Posted on Wednesday, February 20, 2019

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The Lorraine Apartments and the Lorraine Hotel

The Divine Lorraine was designed by Willis G. Hale, and it was originally known as the Lorraine Apartments. Completed in 1892, the 10 story building was a remarkable achievement at the time.

Divine Lorraine, Photo Credit: kryptodrex (Instagram)

The resplendent design of the building included state of the art innovations of that time such as electricity and an elevator.  It was one of the first high rise buildings to be built in all of Philadelphia.  About a decade later, it would be sold and converted into a hotel known as the Lorraine Hotel, and for many years, it was among the most luxurious hotels in Philly.

A view of the Divine Lorraine prior to being restored

Father Divine

Father Divine (circa 1876-1965) was a unique religious leader who came to fame during the height of the Great Depression from 1929 to 1939. Little is known about Father Divine’s origins, and it is unclear what name he was even given at birth. At some point, he changed his name to the Reverend Major Jealous Divine and founded the International Peace Mission Movement. The movement was in large part a response to the desperation and poverty that became so prevalent during the Great Depression. Divine sought to uplift the downtrodden in society, though some of his means were extremely controversial, not the least of which was his alliance with the Communist Party USA, and even more so, his declaration that he was God.

Father Divine and Mother Divine

The International Peace Mission Movement was founded in Harlem but would eventually move to Philadelphia in 1942. Divine grew fond of Philadelphia and would eventually declare Philadelphia as the "Capital of the World."  In 1948. Father Divine purchased the now 56 year old Lorraine Apartments that had been showing their age in the years prior.  Father Divine and his followers rehabbed the building and renamed it as the Divine Lorraine Hotel, which was complete with a large worship space in what had once been an auditorium on the 10th floor.

Place in the Civil Rights Movement History

The Divine Lorraine was not just any hotel, it was the first in the United States of America to be fully racially integrated as Father Divine and his followers believed that all people were equal. Additionally, Father Divine continued to advocate on he behalf of the poor. As a public service, the bottom floor of the Divine Lorraine was opened as a kitchen where members of the community could eat dinner for only 25 cents, regardless of whether they were members of Father Divine's congregation.

Abandonment

Father Divine passed away in 1965, and as the years went on, the members of the International Peace Mission Movement dwindled in number until it got to the point that they could no longer care for the Divine Lorraine, and the building was sold in 2000. Numerous attempts to redevelop the building would subsequently fail, and the Divine Lorraine began to deteriorate into a modern day ruin. Located on a prominent corner in North Philadelphia near Temple University, and surrounded by much smaller buildings, the Divine Lorraine could be seen for many blocks in every direction. Even in its dilapidated state and graffiti clad exterior, the Divine Lorraine’s beauty was apparent, and the sight of this deteriorating grand building rallied many to try and save it.

Redevelopment

In 2016, the Divine Lorraine Hotel was redeveloped into an apartment building, the same use the building was originally built for 124 years earlier.  Despite being an apartment building, the building continues to be known as the Divine Lorraine Hotel and the prominent signs on the roof of the building which displayed this name were repaired.  Overall, great care was taken to the restore the building to how it looked in the past, especially the grand lobby of the building of the building which is open to the public.  There will soon be a restaurant from acclaimed chef Joe Cicala opening on the ground floor of the building as well.

Additional Information

The Divine Lorraine Hotel
699 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123

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