Old Philly Postcards: The Divine Lorraine

dlorraineI suspect just about everyone Philadelphia knows about the Divine Lorraine, the spectacular building found on North Broad Street. It has been written about extensively, has inspired poetry, is photographed regularly by urban explorers, and it seems like the City Paper does a tribute every year or so. Hell, it’s even got its own facebook page. But most of what has been written about the Divine Lorraine seems to have been written about Father Divine, who purchased the building in 1948 and is undoubtedly a fascinating figure in Philadelphia history. But since so much has been written on the Lorraine in the years it was owned by Father Divine, I’ve decided to focus on the first 50 years of the Hotel, because a) that’s when the postcard was taken b) it is a cool and underappreciated part of its history and c) because this is my website, so I can do whatever I damn well please.

Apparently, there was a lot of money in Philadelphia in the 1890s, as it seems like all of the grand hotels I’ve been writing about in the past week were erected in within a ten year period. Interesting, seeing as this all occurred right after the Panic of 1893. The architect for the building was Willis G. Hale, an interesting fellow who married up to both join the upper class and ensure himself numerous commissions from Philly’s rich and famous. On his architectural style, the best bio I found on him said this: A follower of the High Victorian Gothic school, Hale was an architect without precedent. He built during the post-civil war era, a time known for its flamboyance, its over-complication and its overwhelming presence. Although he was certainly influenced by his mentors Sloan and MacArthur and his better-know peer, Frank Furness, Hale was an eclectic original.

Shortly after his completion of the Divine Lorraine, however, the Victorian style he used fell out of favor and there was a pronounced backlash, sort of like disco.

haleWillis Hale died in Philadelphia on August 29, 1907 completely penniless and out of favor in the architectural community. His achievements in the field were wholly disregarded and he was seen as a fleeting oddity, who no one would much miss. Unfortunately, public interest has never quite swayed back toward Willis Hale. There is little published information about his life and work and most of his buildings that were not reabsorbed for more modern uses have been torn down.

Ironically, at the time he died penniless, people staying in the spectacular building he had designed were among the most wealthy in the United States. The nouveau riche moved to North Philadelphia, and when their friends came to visit, they rented rooms at the glorious Hotel Lorraine (the “Divine” was not added until Father Divine bought the building), which featured modern amenities such as electricity and telephones. Though it was opened as luxury apartments, for reasons I cannot quite ascertain after studying it online, the Lorraine was converted into a luxury hotel only about 6 years after opening, and was a luxury hotel at the time of Hale’s passing.

According to the postcard, rooms were $2.00 and had 360 rooms, but there is no postmark, so I’m not sure when the postcard came out. The GM at the time was one Mr. Chas. Duffy and Fred L. Scholl was the Resident Manager. I’m prety sure they’re dead now. They’re not on facebook.

A great source of the Lorraine’s early history can be found in the book Broad Street North and South. I highly encourage you to a) buy this book and b) check out the awesome photos it has of the Lorraine in the early 20th century. OK, BE READY TO TOTALLY TRIP OUT BECAUSE THIS IS AWESOME. Check out the photo of the Cafe Lorraine (below), which according to the book, “had a six piece orchestra that played from 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. and starting at 9 p.m., had a cabaret and dancing.” Then you can compare it with the photo below it, which I am fairly confident is the exact same room (There were two 10th floor cafes, but I believe this is the same one).

Picture 1


Want something even trippier? Check out this urban explorer’s video of this same room, set to piano music, and watch it while looking at the old black and white photo. Too cool. Another cool video is this one, which shows the view from the roof. As for the Lorraine’s current status? Hard to say. It was slated to be renovated for apartments for your professionals and was partially gutted, but those plans seem to have stalled and now it’s unknown what will happen to the beloved building. Here’s some discussion about its future on phillyspeaks.

RELATED: When we are looking for great photos regarding Philly’s architecture, the first place we always turn is phillyskyline.com. The pics on there of the inside of the Divine Lorraine don’t disappoint, (Though we must say that we are a little sad that B-Love, the man behind the website, called it quits last week.)