Some abandoned places are easy to overlook. Block after block of soot stained brick factories can easily conceal an abandoned place in their midst. Some only stand out as they windows are broken and replaced with plywood, while others go unnoticed until the taggers start covering them with spray paint. Then there are those you just can’t miss, such as the Divine Lorraine Hotel on Philadelphia’s North Broad Street. If its striking architecture was not enough to attract the eye, the fact that it towers over any nearby structure makes it impossible to miss.
The hotel dates back to the 1890′s when North Broad Street was the gateway to the affluent neighborhoods of North Philadelphia. Designed by architect Willis G. Hale, the building is a testament to the age in which is was built. The industrial revolution brought about new technology and new wealth like the country had never known before. At ten stories tall, it was one of the first highrise apartment buildings in the city, and one of the first equipped with elevators. It was a place of luxury for the city’s elite boasting such rare features as electricity and an onsite staff.
In 1948, the controversial leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement, Father Divine, purchased the building and renamed it the Divine Lorraine. Divine opened the hotel to members of all races, making it the first Philadelphia hotel of its class to be fully integrated. With its religious affiliation, the hotel operated with a strict code or morality, meaning no drinking, smoking, or excessive interaction between members of the opposite sex. Divine believed that all people were created equally in the eyes of God and was active in various social welfare programs as well as civil rights. The hotel closed in 1999 and has been sold twice since then. Currently, the graffiti is being scrubbed away in preparation of a major renovation, where the old structure will be reopened as condominiums.
The interior was gutted in 2008, leaving a shell of the former structure. In 2009, I took my camera inside and captured what was left.
Only the frills and trim of the lobby remained to hint at the hotel’s past glory
Fancy marble stairs curved up from the lobby, promising luxury that had long since been stripped away.
A small room next to where the front desk stood was filled with trash and debris and we quickly assessed that it was someone’s current home. So we headed up to the upper floors.
Every floor between the ground floor and the top was more or less the same. Walls removed, flooring stripped, frequent holes that needed to be avoided. But the views of the outer walls from so close were totally worth the trip.
There was something about the views here that reminded me of pictures I’ve seen from the old left bank of Paris. Until you noticed modern Broad Street in the background.
We took a break in the section seen at the top of the above picture, where the two wings of the building are joined by a bridging hallway. The spot offered great views to the west and I was able to spy some of the wall at Eastern State Penitentiary. It was a popular place to hang out as evidenced by the various empty booze bottles, food wrappers, and three homemade crack pipes we found sitting there. Time to move on.
The top of each wing was a large space under a soaring curved ceiling. One of these had been a place of worship and I believe the other was a dining hall. Both had been gutted, though.
We did not venture out on the roof, which has since become a popular graffiti spot and location for group photos. But we were content with finally getting inside a place that had beckoned us for years. Most of her mysteries had been wiped away with the plaster, but the sense of history that this grand old building retained was easy to perceive.
The full series can be seen here: Divine Lorraine