The Divine Lorraine Hotel is a 124-year-old establishment near downtown Philadelphia that for 16 years stood completely abandoned. The building’s past is somewhat twisted, with a history involving cult leaders, and its interior was filled with rubble and peeling paint for many years.
The hotel and its Victorian-style architecture have become a staple in the Philly skyline, as well as a place for urban explorers to venture into if they dare. Photographer Matt Hurst, who is well-versed in shooting abandoned spaces, documented the interior of the hotel for the first time in 2007, and then again in 2010, to see what was left of the historic landmark.
But now the hotel is in the middle of a US$44 million transformation into apartments that are currently available for pre-leasing. They will be ready for move-in sometime before the end of the year, according to Curbed Philadelphia.
Hurst shared some of his photos of the hotel with Business Insider, which we’ve combined with photos of its past.
Architect Willis Hale was known for his unique Victorian designs and sturdy engineering. He worked on the Divine from 1892 to 1894. His use of terra cotta tile in the floors prevented moulding and rotting, which is one of the reasons the building is still intact today.
Originally built as a housing complex, the Lorraine Apartments were intended for Philly's upper-class residents. This is what it looked like inside when it later became a hotel. In the 1940s, rooms could be rented for $5.50 a night.
Locals are intrigued by the hotel -- the more than 3,000 hashtagged Instagram posts are proof -- but many are unaware of its full history.
Hurst is one of those people. 'I actually knew very little about its history prior to photographing it,' he told Business Insider. 'Like most people, I'd always been intrigued by its architecture and the giant eponymous signs on its roof.'
In 1948, Rev. Major Jealous Divine, the leader of the International Peace Mission Movement, purchased the property to provide affordable housing, meals, and a place of worship for his faithful, rule-abiding followers.
In the eyes of his followers, Father Divine was basically God himself. He fought for racial harmony under the belief that there was only one race: the human race.
By purchasing the hotel and opening it to all of his followers, Divine made history in Philadelphia, where the hotel industry held a policy of universal segregation.
The rules were strict under Divine's watch, and 'evangelical' attire had to be worn at all times. Although they believed in 'one race,' his teachings did promote gender segregation.
Father Divine's success later won the attention of Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones, who notoriously led more than 900 of his members to a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, in November 1978.
In 1959 Jones approached Divine, expressing his interest in taking over the International Peace Mission Movement whenever Divine himself might pass away.
Divine declined, and when he died in 1965, his wife, Mother Divine, took over the International Peace Mission Movement.
That didn't stop Jones from showing up again in 1971, trying to convince the Movement's followers that he was Divine reincarnated.
The building was closed and sold by the Movement between 1999 and 2000, leaving a playground for urban explorers who have mostly ventured to graffiti inside, or to photograph it, like Hurst did.
During his first visit in 2007, he found that many rooms 'still contained beds and other assorted furniture, decorations, and bibles. Many of the objects had been relocated to the former dining hall on the ground floor, where they were being organised into categories for sale by the salvage company,' he said.
The decrepit hotel is currently being transformed back into apartment spaces, with room for retail and restaurants on the lobby floors. Apartment rents will range from US$1,325 to US$2,540.
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