The Divine Lorraine Hotel


 

Standing at the corner of Broad and Fairmount Streets in North Philadelphia is a building that is historically significant on a number of different levels. The Divine Lorraine Hotel, formerly known as both Lorraine Apartments and the Lorraine Hotel, was designed by architect Willis G. Hale and built between 1892 and 1894. The building originally functioned as apartments, housing some of Philadelphia’s wealthy residents.

Both the location of the building and the architecture itself reflect the changes that were occurring rapidly in the city of Philadelphia and in the country at the time. North Philadelphia of the 1880s attracted many of the city’s nouveau-riche, those individuals who became wealthy as a result of the industrial revolution. The Lorraine was a place of luxurious living, providing apartments with new amenities such as electricity. In addition, the building boasted its own staff, eliminating the need for residents to have private servants. There was also a central kitchen from which meals were delivered to residents.

The Lorraine Apartments were also an architectural feat. Prior to this period, the majority of Philadelphia’s buildings were low rise, generally being no more than three or four stories tall. Not only were construction materials and techniques not capable of supporting taller buildings, but also imagine the inconvenience of the many flights of stairs one would have to ascend in order to get to higher floors in the absence of an elevator. However, around the time of the industrial revolution, improvements in building materials made taller buildings possible. The Lorraine, at ten stories tall, was one of the first high rise apartment buildings in the city. An earlier high rise apartment building was also designed by Hale, which was built at 22nd and Chestnut Streets in 1889 and stood until demolished in 1945.


 

In 1948 the building was sold to Father Divine (aka George Baker or Reverend Major Jealous Divine). Father Divine was the leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement. After purchasing the building, Father Divine renamed it the Divine Lorraine Hotel. His hotel was the first of its class in Philadelphia to be fully racially integrated. The Divine Lorraine was open to all who were willing to follow the rules of the movement. Among other things, these rules included no smoking, no drinking, no profanity, and no undue mixing of the sexes. Men and women therefore resided on different floors of the building. Also, guests and residents were expected to uphold a certain level of modesty, meaning that women were expected to wear long skirts – no pants. Believing that all people were equal in the sight of God, Father Divine was involved in many social welfare activities as well. For example, after purchasing the hotel, several parts of it were transformed for public use. The 10th floor auditorium was converted to a place of worship. The movement also opened the kitchen on the first floor as a public dining room where persons from the community were able to purchase and eat low cost meals for 25 cents each.

Divine’s followers ran the hotel after his death until its sale in 2000. The Universal Peace Mission Movement still exists in the form of a network of independent churches, businesses, and religious orders. Its followers also run another hotel, the Divine Tracy in West Philadelphia. The Divine Lorraine received a historical marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1994 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 as a site significant in terms of both architectural and civil rights history. After its most recent purchase in 2006, future plans for the hotel included converting it into condominiums.

References:

  • ARCH: Pennsylvania’s Historic Architecture and Archaeology. http://www.arch.state.pa.us/. (accessed 29 March 2007).
  • Hotes, Robert J., et al. “Divine Lorraine Hotel Honored with Landmark Building Award.” Preservation News. http://www.preservationalliance.com/news_divine_2.php (accessed 26 March 2007).
  • Newall, Mike. “Left Behind: A rare look inside North Broad’s Divine Lorraine, a hotel with a heavenly past on the cusp of (commercial) resurrection.” Philadelphia City Paper. 13-19 January 2005. http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2005-01-13/cover.shtml (accessed 28 March 2007).
  • Rohrer, Willa. “Noble Savage: Selling the guts of a Philly landmark.” Philadelphia Weekly. 18 October 2006. http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/view.php?id=13214. (accessed 28 March 2007).
  • “The Universal Peace Mission Movement of Father Divine.”16 June 1997. http://www.americanreligion.org/cultwtch/frdivine.html. (accessed 28 March 2007).
  • Wikipedia. “North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Philadelphia,_Pennsylvania. (accessed 28 March 2007).

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