To anyone who knows Philadelphia, the Divine Lorraine is more famous (or infamous) than the Betsy Ross House, the Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall combined. Once a beacon for Father Divine's followers towering over the crossroads of Fairmount, Ridge, and North Broad, the International Peace Movement Mission came to a crossroads of its own in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Because of the church's unorthodox teaching: "no undue mixing of the sexes," Father Divine's followers, as well as Mother's, weren't known for propagating new followers. With few new recruits in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries (if any at all), the church has dwindled to all but a few who live out their days in Gladwyne, PA at The Mount of the House of the Lord.
The fate of the Mount, known historically as Woodmont, has sparked its own questions. The mammoth Gilded Age estate is nestled in the cushy Main Line suburbs where history can be easily traded for million dollar mansions with indoor hockey rinks. If Woodmont estate were to be carved up for more homes, or worse, demolished, it wouldn't be the first time the Main Line lost something so grand.
But for now, Woodmont is safe. The Divine Lorraine, on the other hand, has had a recent history nearly as storied as its history with the church. Passed around for the last decade and a half like a pricy game of hot potato, the Divine Lorraine was gutted and left for dead. Open to the elements, the smell of rotting wood and spray paint can be smelled from the surrounding blocks.
When local developer, Eric Blumenfeld purchased the building a few years ago, Divine Fatigue had set in amongst Philadelphians, and many of us thought the new ownership might signal the demise of the Divine Miss L.
Then someone named William "Billy" Procida got involved. The North Jersey based developer helped transform Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen into what it is today. And today, apparently bored with no corner of New York left to terraform, Procida has decided to join Blumenfeld in the herculean task of changing the way Philadelphians think about North Broad Street.
If any building were to signify North Broad Street's, even North Philadelphia's awakening from a long dormant hibernation, it's the Divine Lorraine. It's more than an architectural feat spoken by locals within the same breath as City Hall or the PSFS Building, it also sits at the confluence of three major arterial avenues and the gateway to North Philadelphia. With development taking place at major intersections along North Broad and Temple University's influence expanding into the neighborhoods, the Divine Lorraine is the key to getting Center City dwellers to walk north and explore a part of the city that really isn't that far away.
The long wait is now over, it would seem, as tomorrow afternoon, Eric Blumenfeld, Mayor Michael Nutter, and a few other City Hall big wigs will be hosting a heavily publicized groundbreaking at the Divine Lorraine. Obviously ceremonial as no ground need be broken, the event is long overdo and well worth the pomp.
The event takes place tomorrow, September 16th at 1PM. Be sure to bring your camera and get some good pictures as this may be one of your last chances to see the Divine Lorraine in all its blighted glory.