Story, photos by Cassie Hepler
Have you ever noticed the old background photo on the Explore-Philly website?
Well, it is not from the top of the Divine Lorraine but the brother building down the street, the Beury Building (also known as the boner building because of the graffiti words sprayed on it). That same day, another adventurous photographer and I attempted to enter the then-abandoned Divine Lorraine. However, it was a concrete fortress.
“We learned people were sneaking in through the Annex building in the back,” said Christopher R. Cordaro, Vice President of EB Realty Management Corp.
There was one guy who did – and broke so many bones falling down an elevator shaft that he then tattooed himself with the deadly building. Many others followed suit like these anarchist Temple students in the film below to get a true idea of what it looked like before construction.
Designed by architect Willis G. Hale and built between 1892 and 1894, the building originally functioned as apartments, housing some of Philadelphia’s wealthy residents. At 10 stories tall, it was one of the first high-rise apartment buildings in the city as well as one of the most luxurious and best preserved late 19th-century apartment houses in Philadelphia. Hale designed many other buildings around the city, but quickly fell out of favor at the turn of the century when most patrons rejected his highly stylized Victorian designs for the sleeker style of modern skyscrapers, and most of his landmarks had been torn down after the Great Depression.
In 1948, the building was sold to Father Divine (Reverend Major Jealous Divine) for $485,000. Father Divine was the leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement. And no, this wasn’t a cult, even though they had strict modesty rules. They were one of the first movements to have complete racial integration however.
“A cult took on their persona…,” said Cordaro. “And Mother Divine just passed away.”
The building was closed in 1999 and sold in 2000 by the International Peace Mission. In May 2006, it was resold to Lorraine Hotel LP. to be converted into apartments. Development never came to fruition but furnishings were sold while floors, paneling, and other architectural items were removed by salvage companies. The building was reduced to a hollow shell, covered with graffiti, with windows boarded up with cement and open to the elements.
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mother Divine. Together, Father and Mother Divine made a formidable pair and their accomplishments in forging racial equality in Philadelphia are reminiscent of those of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. across our great nation. I had the great fortune to visit with her recently with my 12 year old son Jesse at her lovely and grande Woodmont estate in Gladwyne. Both Jesse and I were completely mesmerized by her and by the gracious members of the International Peace Movement who cared for her with great respect and admiration. Mother Divine was the picture of grace, elegance and dignity and I will always remember her beautiful and benevolent smile. I am confident that the family of the International Peace Movement will continue to emulate and preserve the great legacy of both Father and Mother Divine and the proud history of the International Peace Movement as it is a story that deserves telling and retelling for generations to come. Rest In Peace Mother Divine,” said a statement by Eric Blumenfeld.
In February 2015 the developer announced renovation plans to convert the building into rental units with restaurants on the ground level pending closing on financing. As of June 2016 a new rooftop “Divine Lorraine” sign had been installed and some interior apartments were nearing completion. In 2017 renovations have been completed and EB Realty Management has already rented out 25 of the 77 available units in this historic building. Let’s take a tour, shall we?
Not pictured, there was a secret underground tunnel between the Annex (future hotel space) and the main building and that is where the gym will be located.
Stay tuned! Of course we’ll be back when it’s open for the full scoop and to tell you what’s good.