Walk a short ways up North Broad Street from Center City Philadelphia, and you can’t miss it: Looking like some real-life Tower of Terror, the empty Divine Lorraine Hotel looms over one of Philly’s farthest-fallen commercial corridors. Just a few blocks due north is another faded architectural gem, the Metropolitan Opera House.
Being who we are and what we do, Next American City is pleased to host a celebration and guided tour of both buildings.
Initially built as The Lorraine Apartments by architect Willis G. Hale in the late 19th century, the Divine Lorraine is perhaps the most unashamedly gaudy Victorian building left standing in the city. In the 1940s, it became the first racially integrated hotel in Philadelphia under the ownership of civil rights leader Father Divine, who gave it the current name. However, the preacher maintained a strict policy of segregating people of different sexes by floor and disallowed smoking, alcohol, cursing and, uh, short skirts. Still, the building remained in use until 1999 and has since been left vacant, becoming a graffiti-marked beacon for residents, developers and urban explorers alike.
This year, developer Eric Blumenfeld purchased the Divine with plans for turning it into loft apartments, with restaurants slated for the ground floor. He has also proposed infilling the surrounding vacant land — the whole rest of the block, and then some — with a high school campus. (For more, read Diana Lind’s comparative assessment of this and another, more problematic vision for redevelopment on North Broad.)
Three blocks up the road, the Metropolitan Opera House sits only partially occupied, awaiting a redevelopment of its own. Built in 1908, it went beyond serving as a venue for Carmen and Madame Butterfly, serving intermittently as a silent movie theater, ballroom and makeshift sports arena. It escaped demolition in 1994 by Rev. Mark Hatcher and soon become the site for his church, the Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center. Blumenfeld bought the building at the same time he acquired the Divine Lorraine, and is in the process of brainstorming ideas for its future.
Bob Gollwitzer, project manager for Blumenfeld’s firm EB Realty Management Corp., took me on a tour of both the opera house and the Divine Lorraine earlier this month. Should you come to our end-of-year toast, Gollwitzer will give a similar tour of the Divine before we head on over to the opera house for champagne (Boardwalk Empire-themed parties, eat your heart out.)
Join us in front of the Divine Lorraine on December 18 at 3pm. Space is limited to 20 participants. Tickets are $150 and 100% tax deductible.