Philly’s Divine Lorraine Hotel Coming Back to Life

The decaying Divine Lorraine. (Flickr / Vandalog)

The decaying Divine Lorraine. (Flickr / Vandalog)

One of Philadelphia’s most impressive old ruins might be coming back to life. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a New Jersey real estate lender is providing  $31.5 million to convert the decaying Divine Lorraine hotel into luxury apartments and commercial space. This is not the first attempt to transform the Lorraine, but it just might be its best.

The 120-year-old Romanesque structure that was once a symbol of opulent luxury has been abandoned for the past 15 years—save for the ghosts who are rumored to wander its halls. But that could soon change. According to The Inquirer, this influx of cash could help developer Eric Blumenfeld “kick-start a conversion of the graffiti-scarred historic building.” He bought the Lorraine for $8 million in 2012, but hasn’t been able to finance a full transformation. If all things go according to plan, the Divine Lorraine will be just one of the new projects coming online along Philly’s North Broad Street corridor.

The building was designed by Willis G. Hale and opened as the Lorraine Apartments back in 1894. “The Lorraine was the true pinnacle of luxury in its time, boasting full electricity, two gigantic penthouse ballrooms, and a talented staff that pushed private servants into a state of obsolescence,” reported Curbed Philly. A few years later, it was turned into a hotel, which was successful up until the Depression.

Inside the Lorraine.   (Flickr / Vandalog)

Inside the Lorraine. (Flickr / Vandalog)

In 1948, the founder of the International Peace Mission Movement, Reverend Major Jealous Divine, bought the building and renamed it the Divine Lorraine Hotel. The Reverend welcomed anyone into the Lorraine, making it America’s first racially integrated hotel. All were welcome, but according to Curbed, guests had to obey Divine’s rules: “That meant no drinking, no smoking, no profanity, and sharing quarters with the opposite sex was forbidden. The two penthouse ballrooms were transformed into worship halls while the ground floor kitchen was opened to the public as a low-cost alternative for hungry Philadelphians.”

And that’s just the start of it. Jim Jones—yes, Jamestown Jim Jones—used to kick it with the Reverend inside the hotel. After Divine’s death in the 1960s, Jones unsuccessfully tried to continue leading his friend’s movement. Instead, Jones started his own thing, which you may have heard about.

Fast-forward to 2002 when the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and then to 2006 when Philly developer Michael Treacy Jr. bought the building with a promise to preserve its historic integrity. According to Untapped Cities,  that didn’t happen; “instead the interior of the building was scavenged for everything from marble and alabaster to radiators and old mattresses. Afterward, it was left abandoned, windows shattered, the interior exposed to the elements.”

After many years of change, this abandoned, graffitied, possibly haunted, formerly-cultish, beautiful hotel is prepping for its next guests.

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