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The Divine Lorraine Hotel: The Next Wave of Worship and Community.

May 16, 2016


Text by Anna Mraz. Images by Teresa McCullough.

A line curled around the corner of N. Broad Street and Ridge Avenue, with people old and young waiting excitedly for their chance to view the lobby of the Philadelphia landmark, the Divine Lorraine. N. Sheikh‘s Divine Lorraine Hotel Collection pop-up shop was open to the public.

Bella Robertson was especially happy to see the grand hotel re-animated and teaming with life from all parts of the community. That’s how she remembers it. She grew up in a city divided by segregation, but there was no such nonsense inside the walls of the Divine.

“Oh, it was beautiful,” she said.“We had everything – the playground, the school, everything like that. We came to the Divine to eat. Anyone could come, didn’t matter who, anybody off the streets. Any race, any religion. You were welcome as long as you cleaned and said your peace.”

She reflected upon the happiness of that time and laughed, recalling the burlesque club that stood where Jimmy G’s Steaks is now.

In 1948 the Lorraine Hotel became the Divine Lorraine, under it’s new owner, Father M.J. Divine. A lot of mystery surrounded him, but it is agreed that he cut a very powerful figure (he claimed to be a God) despite his height of 5’2.” His organization, the International Peace Mission Movement, promoted racial equality and economic independence for its followers. He also contributed to the Civil Rights movement, remaining an active speaker and spiritual leader until his death in 1965.

The walls of the lobby are crumbling now. The layers of paint tell stories of glamorous days past but are now flaking away into dust. The structure still stands, however, as does the spirit of a community coming together to celebrate the greater good. Perhaps there is something to be said for the immortality of Father Divine’s life mission. Not immortal in body but rather in spirit, his message comes to mind as the visitor’s eye took in the vibrant and splashy installation pieces by local artists like MECRO, Dessie Jackson, Dewey Saunders, Amber Lynn, Drew Leshko, Mike Whitson and GERM.

The MECRO piece stole the show, with fashionably dressed visitors posing for pictures in front that are definitely cover-photo worthy. There was a small, pink cloud of an archway graffiti painting that evokes the apse paintings of late Byzantine/ early Christian art. The “paper” cranes made of hand-blown glass are a subtle and welcome addition, produced by a feat of technical skill and a mind of peace. Collectively, the installations were a visual celebration of the building’s new life.

The capsule collection on display was the second release of a variety of streetwear for SS16. Thanks to Brooks Bell and his collaborators at DECADES, they are wildly popular and on trend. Bella Robertson picked up the pink classic cap with the Divine Lorraine logo.

Of course, no party would be complete without a soundtrack, and in this instance Jason Hunter (Locals Only) and Ed Cristoff (Danceteria) punctuated the soft hum of mingling crowds with their fluid beats.

The daily, communal dinners have been replaced by art and music but the Divine is still a place of community and worship. The pop up shop was a resounding success and the future of the Divine Lorraine Hotel looks bright as it sits on the precipice of development into apartments.

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