It’s difficult to explain, but I was so strongly drawn to this building the first time that I saw it. It’s very rare that I feel such strong emotions from a place, but this is perhaps the proudest building that I’d ever seen, and it was hurting. It was a confusing experience. Deep sorrow, curiosity, wonder, and hope all over this one place. I must have stared for 30 minutes. There is no question that it’s my favorite building in Philadelphia.
Looking into it a bit further, this is a building with a history. In 1890, a building this tall was quite an architectural feat. The love for this building shows in its details, which almost border on flamboyant. And yet its stylized, somewhat Victorian architecture seems somehow completely appropriate.
According to Wikipedia, it originally housed Philadelphia’s nouveau-riche. Philadelphia was quickly industrializing at the time, and perhaps the building’s proximity to the factories in northern Philadelphia was attractive to these industrialists.
Just after WWII, though, Father Divine of the Universal Peace Mission purchased the building. It was renamed the Divine Lorraine Hotel. Father Divine claimed that he was Christ reincarnated, and his movement believed that all people were created equal in the eyes of God. The luxurious building became the first racially integrated hotel in the country and was an early symbol for the civil rights movement. Several portions were converted for public use, including the 10th floor for prayer services and the ground floor for the public to purchase very low cost meals.
The building was closed around 2000 and completely abandoned, save for Mr. Peace, the building’s caretaker. Within just 10 years, the building is in a serious state of disrepair and is open to the elements in many places.
The Lorraine sits directly on top of the Fairmount subway stop, just a five minute ride to center city. This building has so much personality, history, and possibility — I only hope that the developer who purchased the building acts quickly to save it.
For a writeup far better than anything I can do and some really incredible photos of the interior, both past and present, please see here.