October 7th, 2011

The Divine Lorraine

The Lorraine apartments building came into existence on the corner of Broad and Fairmount in the 1894. Catering to the more-wealthy citizens of the city, the Lorraine boasted an in-house staff as well as
electricity in all apartments. A centralized kitchen also meant that there was no need for a personal one, since daily meals could be delivered to you as needed. Not only was this hotel notable for its luxurious
amenities, but also as one of the first highrises in all of the city of Philadelphia. The architect behind this beautiful landmark was a Mr.Willis Gaylord Hale, who himself was a resident of the city.

Willis Gaylord Hale designed numerous buildings around the city of Philadelphia throughout his years, but as time progressed his heavily Victorian-influenced design work became replaced by the sleeker
(and exponentially simpler) “modern” skyscrapers which were being erected after the turn of the 20th century. Sadly most of what Willis Gaylord Hale accomplished during his lifetime no longer stand today. Many of his buildings were razed after the Great Depression to make way for modern structures throughout the city. This makes the Lorraine building all the more important – it now stands as a symbol
of the beauty which was old Philadelphia, and as a reminder of what was lost through the city's short-sighted plans to modernize itself. How one could look upon a building crafted with such passion and not see great value in it as a unique part of the city and its history is something I simply cannot grasp. Still, there is far more to the story of the Lorraine apartments building than just its outward beauty.

This building truly came into the limelight in 1948 when Father Divine purchased it to use as a housing facility for the Universal Peace Mission Movement, renaming it with the badge it carries to this day;
the Divine Lorraine Hotel. The Universal Peace Movement was open to people of all sexes, religions, and unlike most anything of the era – all races. Thus making the Divine Lorraine one of the first racially
integrated hotels of its kind in the United States. Shortly after the purchase of the hotel, Father Divine altered the top-floor auditorium for use as a public place of worship. He also opened the hotel's kitchen
to the needy, charging only 25 cents for a meal. Opinions on Father Divine and his work vary immensely, ranging from that of literally being God incarnate, to the possibility that he was in fact a fraud
and one of the first public cult leaders in the nation. Though his life was nothing short of a scandal-fueled roller coaster, this does not change the fact that a number of Father Divine's actions
did better our society profoundly.

So the Divine Lorraine hotel exists today not only as a beautiful and rare relic of the past, but as a place which very publicly aided in the civil rights movement... unfortunately it also stands abandoned.
A rushed and ill-planed effort to renovate and reopen the hotel began in 2006 but was never completed, leaving the hotel badly gutted and exposed to the elements.
It would be an inexcusable shame to see a place of such history lost to the neglect of a city which owes it so much, but as it currently stands hope dwindles with every passing year.

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