A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Lorraine Apartments was among Philadelphia’s earliest high-rise apartment houses. Designed by Philadelphia architect Willis G. Hale (1848-1907), the ten-story building, built in 1892-1893 in the heart of the burgeoning nouveau riche neighborhood of North Broad Street, exemplified the rapidly changing possibilities of urban life that swept across the country at the time. Its innovations included electricity and telephones. The apartments were designed without kitchens and private servant staffs, which liberated women from domestic tasks and offered tenants a hotel-type residence that provided meals to each unit from central kitchens while providing public spaces that could be turned to comfortable private use as the occasion demanded. The opulence and scale of the building – renamed the Lorraine Hotel by the Metropolitan Hotel Company which acquired it in 1900 – made it a major landmark in its North Philadelphia neighborhood.

Its significant place in history as a “modern” high-rise apartment building is equaled, if not exceeded, by its association with the controversial and charismatic religious and civil rights leader, the Reverend Major J. Divine (1879-1965), or Father Divine, whose organization operated it for a half-century as an interracial hotel and a center of the Divine Peace Mission’s civil rights, commercial, and religious activities. Not long after their arrival in Philadelphia in 1942, Father Divine and his wife, Mother Divine, began acquiring important properties on North Broad Street, which they used to house and employ their followers. Their acquisition in 1948 of the Lorraine Hotel made their Peace Mission Movement “the largest group of property owners among Negroes in the city,” with properties totaling nearly nine hundred thousand dollars by 1957. The Divine Lor­raine served as the cornerstone of the Peace Mission Movement’s economic plan to purchase additional properties to provide work for Father Divine’s followers while also serving Philadelphia’s black community. Offering meals, clothing, personal health care services, transportation, and accommodations at sharply discounted rates, the Peace Mission Movement functioned as an important agent of social welfare, commercial enterprise, and civil rights.

After Father Divine’s death, the Peace Mission Movement closed, sold, or donated to neighborhood charities most of its properties in Philadelphia, but the Divine Lorraine did not cease operation until 1999. On September 11, 1994, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission erected a state historical marker in front of the Divine Lorraine commemorating the significance of the “civil rights leader of the 1930s, [who] established Cooperative Economic Plan, providing life’s necessities at nominal prices,” and recognizing the building as “one of the first integrated hotels of its cal­iber in the U.S.”

In spite of its conversion from apartment house to hotel, the Lorraine Apart­ments required minimal alterations and retains its original character and early appearance. The structure continues to reflect its historic functions and architectural integrity. It is currently being considered for rehabilitation or adaptive reuse.

 

Recent Additions to the National Register of Historic Places

Citizens National Bank of Latrobe
Latrobe, Westmoreland County
November 1, 2002

Bethel African American Episcopal Church of Monongahela City
Monongahela City, Washington County
November 7, 2002

Colonial National Bank Building
Connellsville, Fayette County
November 15, 2002

Dr. J. C. McClenathan House and Office
Connellsville, Fayette County
November 15, 2002

Lorraine Apartments
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
November 27, 2002

Lower Merion Academy – Cynwyd Elementary School – Bala Cynwyd Junior High School Complex
Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County
November 27, 2002

Millersburg Passenger Rail Station
Millersburg, Dauphin County
November 27, 2002

Suffolk Manor Apartments
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
December 20, 2002

Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad – Water Gap Station
Delaware Water Gap, Monroe County
November 27, 2002

 

The editor is indebted to the research of George E. Thomas and Dominec Vitiello, of George E. Thomas Associates, Inc., Philadelphia, who pre­pared the nomination listing the Lorraine Apartments in the National Register of Historic Places.