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Lower arch

Lower arch

Top of hotel with sign

Hotel with Divine Lorraine sign at top.

Hotel fire escape

Hotel fire escape

Hotel fire escape

Hotel fire escape

At a corner of the hotel looking up.

The southwest corner of the hotel

Divine Lorraine Hotel

The Divine Lorraine Hotel dominates the intersection of Broad Street, Ridge Avenue, and Fairmount Avenue. It’s a massive stone building with double-decker arches in front. It does not look like it’s going anywhere either. It is captivating despite its beleaguered state. Just looking at it gets people asking questions. What is it? Where did it come from? What did it used to be? What are they going to do with it now? The last one is most often heard. Some of these questions have answers, some only speculation. But we’ll start at the beginning, which (as the song says) is a very good place to start.

Front view of the Divine Lorraine Hotel Fairmount Street sign with upper arch of the hotel in background. Northwest corner of building with Divine Lorraine sign on top Fire escape rear of hotel

Who built it in the first place?

Willis G. Hale designed the building as an apartment building, and it was constructed between 1892 and 1894. It opened as the Lorraine Apartments and was an address to many wealthy Philadelphians. There was a large kitchen in the building so that meals could be ordered and delivered to residents, as well as having personal staff, negating the need of residents to hire personal servants. The building was wired with electricity and had telephone service, which was cutting edge at the time.

In the early 1900’s, shortly after being built, the building morphed into a hotel—the Lorraine Hotel.

Why does the sign atop it signify the Divine Lorraine Hotel?

In 1948, a new owner steps into the picture. He renames it the Divine Lorraine Hotel. Father Divine (also known as George Baker) purchased the hotel and added, “Divine” to the name. He was the leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement, a racially integrated religious organization. The hotel welcomed all people to stay as long as they followed the rules of the Movement. The rules were socially conservative and included no profanity, smoking, or drinking among others. Father Divine was involved in helping people, and he opened the restaurant to the public to eat for minimal expense. The rules applied to diners, too.

Following the Death of Father Divine in 1965, the organization continued to run the hotel until its sale in 2000.

What’s Next?

The property passed through the hands of several developers, but so far no actions have been taken. They talk of condos and retail space, as they usually do, but only time will tell. It’s hard not to dream and plan when looking at the arched windows, bay windows, and old fire escapes. Let’s hope that the same forces that rehabilitated the Victory Building on 10th and Chestnut Streets will be able to come together for the Divine Lorraine. What a place!

References

Newall, Mike. "Philadelphia Citypaper: Left Behind." 01/13/2005.http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2005-01-13/cover.shtml (accessed 05/29/2009).

Newlin, Heather. "The Philly History Blog: the Divine Lorraine Hotel." 03/26/2007.http://www.phillyhistory.org/blog/archive/2007/03/26/the-divine-lorraine-hotel.aspx (accessed 05/29/2009).

"Wikipedia: the Divine Lorraine Hotel." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_Lorraine_Hotel (accessed 05/29/2009).