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Divine Lorraine
August 30, 2012 12:00 PM   Subscribe

One of the city's first high rises, Philadelphia's Lorraine Apartments were designed by flamboyant architect Willis G. Hale in 1892. In 1948, the building was sold to Father Divine, leader of the International Peace Mission Movement and became The Divine Lorraine Hotel.

Father Divine, a controversial figure who claimed to be God, preached racial equality and turned the Divine Lorraine into the first hotel of its class to be racially integrated. After his death, his followers continued to run the hotel by his rules before selling to a developer in 2000.

For the past 12 years, the Divine Lorraine has sat abandoned, serving as a wonderland for graffiti artists and urban explorers. The latest of many attempts to repurpose the building is in its very early stages. You can follow the progress on The Divine Lorraine's Facebook page.
posted by jrossi4r (25 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
awesome building!
posted by robbyrobs at 12:05 PM on August 30, 2012


Philadelphia drag queens are really missing an opportunity if nobody is using the name Divine Lorraine.

Best of luck to those trying to repurpose/save the beautiful building. And thanks to those who explored it abandoned for giving me more of my favorite type of pictures to look at on the Internet.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:10 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Took the words right out of my fingers, MCMikeNamara. Two snaps up!
posted by Madamina at 12:26 PM on August 30, 2012


A couple of interesting facts:
One of Father Divine's sermons was the inspiration for Johnny Mercer's "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive."

Jim Jones was a follower of Father Divine and attempted to take over his movement after his death.
posted by jrossi4r at 12:26 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, what does being placed on the National Register of Historic Places do, if it doesn't, apparently, prevent a developer coming from stripping a building's interior?
posted by Thorzdad at 12:33 PM on August 30, 2012


Thorzdad: "So, what does being placed on the National Register of Historic Places do, if it doesn't, apparently, prevent a developer coming from stripping a building's interior?"

Basically nothing. Listing on the National Register only provides protection if the project to be performed on the structure uses Federal money, and even then there are very few interiors that are considered "significant historic features" when Federal projects are considered.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:39 PM on August 30, 2012


The Divine Lorraine was one of my favorite buildings in Philly, I used to live not far from it. Father Divine is a fascinating figure- one of my family's friends is an artist, an old man who knew Father Divine back in the day. I chatted with him about it once and he told me some great stories, how Father Divine got into trouble for feeding the hungry and homeless out of that beautiful building, how he gave great sermons. I should ask him about it again.
posted by Aubergine at 12:40 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Being on the National Register doesn't actually protect a building, it mostly just qualifies it for some tax breaks.
posted by octothorpe at 12:40 PM on August 30, 2012


I've driven past that building so many times and had no idea what it was. Fantastic post!
posted by gladly at 12:51 PM on August 30, 2012


It's a beautiful building and I hope they can save it. I imagine that it is going to be extraordinarily expensive given the size of the building and how long it has been empty.
posted by nolnacs at 12:55 PM on August 30, 2012


Has there even been a name architect who was not flamboyant?
posted by hwestiii at 1:01 PM on August 30, 2012


That is a fantastic building and I do hope that it can be revitalized in a way that respects its original beauty.
posted by Mister_A at 1:02 PM on August 30, 2012


Check out the blog Philaphilia for more on this theme. It's amazing to see the buildings that have been demolished.
posted by alexei at 1:23 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I actually stayed there once in the late eighties. I needed an inexpensive room for a night and got a nice, clean one with a decent breakfast in the morning. Fortunately for me, I arrived wearing a skirt (I'm female) or I would have been turned away.
posted by shibori at 1:24 PM on August 30, 2012


So, what does being placed on the National Register of Historic Places do, if it doesn't, apparently, prevent a developer coming from stripping a building's interior?

Being on the National Register doesn't actually protect a building, it mostly just qualifies it for some tax breaks.


I'm in CA, might be different in PA, but you do get some benefits beyond a property tax break for historically designated structures. The main caveat is that whatever is deemed historic is accessible in some way by the public (being able to see the building may count as accessible). The governing law in CA is the Mills Act, but I think that's a state thing, not a federal one. From the article, it sounds like PA has a similar program that just got off the ground.

In CA, the building code has significant allowances for historical buildings that ease up the requirements of the regular code should the building be altered. I worked on on building that had substandard stairs (by just about every criteria possible), was built with a non-conforming structural system, and had an existing elevator shaft too small to meet accessibility code, much less the current requirement that an elevator has to fit a gurney; when we rehabilitated the building after a fire, we didn't have to change any of those things to meet current code. If anything, gutting the interior takes away that ability because you can no longer refer to those non-conforming elements as "existing", which would generally allow those things to remain in the building and serve their original function. Heck, as long as we added a sprinkler system, we could have left existing walls in place even if they were made of dynamite.
posted by LionIndex at 1:48 PM on August 30, 2012


Male and female guests on separate (color-coded alternating blue and pink wallpapered) floors; no televisions permitted in rooms, only in designated lounges; no alcohol; something about a curfew comes to mind (and as mentioned above a dress code) as well. Claw-footed cast-iron bathtubs. The skylit top floor contained an auditorium on one side and the communal dining room on the other, both painted with murals of Father Divine's sayings and pastoral imagery. Self-link to more images.
posted by gac at 1:53 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


LionIndex: The main caveat is that whatever is deemed historic is accessible in some way by the public... In CA, the building code has significant allowances for historical buildings that ease up the requirements of the regular code should the building be altered

That all may well be true, but none of it is a direct function of listing on the National Register of Historic Places. There are lots of State and Local laws that provide protection or other benefits to historic resources, and the National Register is a convenient way to find them, but it's not a one-to-one matchup. There are many historic properties that are not on the National Register (as it requires owner consent), for example.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:02 PM on August 30, 2012


Yeah, there are a lot of locally-designated historical things around here that are not and never will be federally recognized, but the CA code allowances I mentioned apply to historically designated buildings regardless of the agency doing the designating. The building I worked on didn't have even have anything really official, but the city planners and the building official all agreed that it was historical, so we got to use the historical code.
posted by LionIndex at 2:06 PM on August 30, 2012


Lifelong Philadelphian here. Went to school at Temple U just a few blocks away. Not to be all cynical but I doubt it will ever happen. It will probably suffer the same fate as the abandonned mills of Kensington. One morning I'll wake up, turn on the news and it will be in flames.
posted by fixedgear at 2:12 PM on August 30, 2012


There was also the Divine Tracy hotel in University City, with the Keyflower Dining Room (which I can't believe I never tried as a dining option during all the years I worked in that area). The hotel has apparently been re-purposed into upscale student housing.
posted by medeine at 2:22 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ha, this further confirms that the acquaintance I was talking to a few weeks back about his grandiose plan to eventually buy the Divine Lorraine is completely full of shit. If actual big-name developers with a long history of converting buildings can't figure out plans for the space, no way the half-assed amateur I was talking to is gonna pull it off. Thanks for clearing that up, mefi!
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:40 PM on August 30, 2012


That place always creeped me right the fuck out when I lived in Philly - especially when I'd ride my bike by it at weird pre-dawn hours in a less-than-sober state.

Gods how I miss Philadelphia. So much.
posted by item at 2:56 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I stayed at the Divine Tracy for two nights during a last minute work trip to Philly in 1998. We were setting up for a conference we decided to attend at the last minute so we needed cheap accommodations. My coworker had heard of it and booked us there (he stayed for the whole conference, I went back to the office in NYC early). As we were not of the same sex, we had to meet in the lobby each morning. I remember that it was late May and scorchingly hot and when I would go back there at the end of the day I'd have to change from my shorts or jeans into a long skirt I wore just to abide by the rules. I'd do it in the back of the rental van which I'm sure wasn't exactly the level of propriety they were going for. The rooms were very clean and you could get a TV if you paid extra (I guess it was wheeled in?). I hadn't realized there was a much nicer looking version in town as well!
posted by marylynn at 3:08 PM on August 30, 2012


It's a lovely building. I hope there's a way to get it repurposed.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:49 PM on August 30, 2012


I rarely experience homesickness while traveling, but I'm in Guatemala for a month and seeing my favorite building in Philly definitely made me pine for home a little.
posted by The White Hat at 7:48 AM on August 31, 2012


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