The historic building is on a fast-changing section of North Broad Street.
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The Divine Lorraine – the historic landmark on North Broad that’s been filled with apartments since January 2017 – is turning into a hotel again, per a message sent by management to building residents.
The 10-story Beaux Arts building at 699 N. Broad St. has cycled through numerous uses since its construction in the 1890s: apartments, a hotel, a home for a religious movement, an abandoned spot frequented by urban explorers, and apartments again.
Now, it’s looking like it will be a hotel once more, with the primary use matching the glowy red sign on the top of the building. Residents received email notifications over the weekend that their current leases are not eligible for renewal, as the property is transitioning to “managed hotel property” in “the coming months.”
It’s not clear exactly when all this will happen, or what it will look like. The email did not include a specific timeline or details about the future plans, and a representative from EB Realty Management did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I’m so so so sad about this,” resident Chrissy Kind, one of the first tenants to move in when the building reopened, told Billy Penn. “I never wanted to move. I keep hoping it’s an April Fool’s joke. ”
The building was one of Philly’s first high-rises. The Lorraine Apartments became the Lorraine Hotel early in the 20th century. Father Divine, the leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement, renamed the property the Divine Lorraine Hotel in the 1950s and turned it into the first racially integrated hotel in the country. Under his ownership, parts of the hotel were open to the public, with the 10th floor used for worship and the dining room on the first floor offering 25-cent meals.
But the hotel eventually closed in 1999 and fell into abandonment. It became a spot favored by graffiti artists and urban explorers (although entering was technically illegal).
Developer Eric Blumenfeld set his eyes on the property in the early 2000s, but he did not have enough funds to re-develop it. He sold the property to someone else, but the new owners were “basically gutting it,” he told Billy Penn in 2016. Blumenfeld re-purchased the property in 2012 with hopes of restoring it and turning it into a mixed-use building with apartments , retail, restaurants. Eventually, his vision became a reality and tenants started occupying some of the building’s 101 units in early 2017.
Since then, the neighborhood has gone through big changes.
The Met Philly, a grand theater nearby that was also restored by Blumenfeld, has become a sought-after destination for internationally known bands and comedy stars. A big new apartment tower rose just behind the Divine Lorraine, and an Aldi supermarket opened on its first floor. New development and construction mark nearly every plot up and down Ridge Avenue as it crosses Broad Street.
The scenario hews to what Blumenfeld has said he imagined. He pegged the renovation of the Divine Lorraine as part of a larger interest in developing North Broad, which was once a vibrant destination that is still home to many Black businesses and cultural landmarks.
“I did not understand why nobody got what was going on there,” he told Billy Penn in 2016.
Blumenfeld recognized the potential to revitalize the corridor early. In the 2000s, he developed LOFTS 640 and the Studebaker Building, and worked with Marc Vetri to open Osteria in 2007 (it changed hands in 2018).
“How we grow as a community is to hit everything from all sides – people living there, working there and people coming for theater and restaurants and nightlife,” Blumenfeld also said in 2016, shortly before the opening of the Divine Lorraine. “We have all those components within our grasp and they’re all kind of falling into place.”
The Divine Lorraine is now home to several restaurants: Cicala, a high-end Italian; The Daily, a coffee shop; Foundation, a cocktail lounge and dance club; and Broad Hall, a small performance venue. Scheduled to open soon is Annex, a grab-and-go market.
All would be considerable amenities to any hotel guests that might book time for a stay.