February 13, 2017

Time To Shine At Philadelphia's Divine Lorraine Hotel

  • By: Katherine Flynn and Mary Lu Seidel

photo by: Isaiah Nathaniel

The Divine Lorraine prior to restoration.

The Divine Lorraine Hotel, a longtime symbol of grandeur gone to seed on Philadelphia's North Broad Street, inspires an unprecedented level of devotion in the city's preservation-minded residents. Now, after an extensive renovation, it's ready for the newest chapter in its storied history.

Designed by architect Willis G. Hale and built between 1892 and 1894 as the Lorraine Apartments, a luxury residential building, the Divine Lorraine Hotel became a place for shorter-term stays in 1900 (at which point it was simply called the Lorraine Hotel). The Rev. Major J. Divine purchased the late Victorian high-rise in 1948 and renamed it, operating his Divine Peace Mission Movement out of the structure and providing affordable housing and meals, as well as a place of worship, for his followers.

As Maria Gorshin writes in an Untapped Cities post, "Later, as North Philadelphia shifted from prosperous to poverty-stricken, Reverend Divine’s building served as a beacon of hope in the area and his sermons began to promote equality, desegregation and anti-lynching legislation." Today, the Divine Lorraine is recognized as Philadelphia's first integrated hotel.

The Divine, located on Philadelphia’s North Broad Street, closed in 1999. The community saw repeated attempts at reusing the building fall flat, and so it was with hope guarded by well-deserved skepticism that Philadelphia listened to developer Eric Blumenfled talk about how he was going to revitalize the hotel.

"The building was teetering on demolition for about a decade," he told Philadelphia’s WBUR in July 2016. "And to me it was kind of representative of what this city is going to do—we were at a crossroad, and if we could not salvage such a beautiful piece of history and architecture, it made a poor statement on the future of Philadelphia."

He purchased the building in 2012, and renovation work got underway late in 2015. For the first time in nearly 40 years, the iconic neon sign on the building’s roof was relit in November of 2016. Work on the $44 million project was completed late in the year, and the first tenants moved in on January 1. As of late January, nearly half of the 101 apartments had been leased, and 55 were still available.

"It’s exciting to see how strongly the community has supported this project," said Christopher Cordaro, Vice President of EB Realty Management. "Its redevelopment has become a symbol of recovery and growth." The apartments are currently available for rent, but ground-floor restaurant and retail spaces are still in progress.

Since renovations began on the Divine Lorraine, Cordaro noted that four new retail locations have opened up on the block north of the building.

Described as "one of the most beloved buildings in Philadelphia," the Divine Lorraine was redeveloped with the help of about $10 million in historic tax credits.

EB Realty Management has focused its work on revitalizing older buildings in Philadelphia. In addition to the Divine Lorraine, their other projects include the Mural Lofts, the Studebaker Building, and the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House.

photo by: EB Realty Management

Developer EB Realty Mangement's rendering of what the restored structure will look like, complete with restaurant and retail space on the ground floor.

By: Katherine Flynn and Mary Lu Seidel

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