While driving up Broad Street, one is bound to notice an ominous shadow around Fairmount Avenue. Although it looks out of place, this awe-inspiring historic treasure, left to rot next to newer buildings, is one of Philadelphia’s most recognizable historic sites: the Divine Lorraine Hotel.
This old building was once the epitome of luxury. Today it sits unused, neglected and essentially wasted. At one time it hosted the wealthy and influential; now it’s home to vagrants, rats and pigeons. How did this gem, this beautiful work of architecture, become one of the city’s most unsightly buildings?
In 1894, the Lorraine Apartments opened their doors as one of the most luxurious spots in Philadelphia. Later, the Metropolitan Hotel Company purchased the building in 1900, turning it into one of the finest hotels in the region.
The Lorraine blossomed, its presence solidified when Father M.J. Divine acquired it in 1948. As a civil rights pioneer and leader of the International Peace Mission Movement, Divine converted the building into one of the first integrated hotels in the country.
Divine had a love of magnificent architecture and the building was given to him at a time when his civil rights campaign was in full swing. Breaking the norm, Divine served both blacks and whites. Divine was able to further his cause while also pursuing his own interests
Unfortunately, preservation of the historic building was not a priority.
After Father Divine’s death in 1965, the Mission continued to operate the hotel. The hotel was credited as an “Official State Historic Site” in 1994.
Six years later, after a Manhattan real estate firm purchased the property, the hotel shut its doors permanently.
Little has changed and time has slowly washed away what was once a premier example of late 19th century architecture. Although numerous plans have been drawn up, most cannot begin restoration due to lack of funding, zoning restrictions and, perhaps most importantly, a lack of interest among local residents and in City Council.
However, hope still lingers. A real estate firm has recently put into action a plan intending to completely restore the hotel. The plan, more promising than past ones, will restore the apartment housing according to the original blueprints.
Local residents hope that if the Lorraine is restored, it will attract more money and businesses into the neighborhood. The apartments could help bring North Broad Street back to its glory days.
For now, the waiting continues. But as years pass, the old hotel must continue its battle with time as it awaits another opportunity to light up the streets of North Philly.
Ross Bercik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org