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After Years Of Decay, Philadelphia's First Racially Integrated Hotel Rebuilds

The Divine Lorraine Hotel is one of Philadelphia’s most prominent examples of blight.

The late Victorian complex was built in 1894 as a stylish set of apartments. When it changed hands 54 years later, it became the first racially integrated hotel in the city and a symbol of pride and luxury.

For more than a decade, the building was abandoned, trashed and covered in graffiti. Eric Blumenfeld, a Philadelphia-based developer, decided to change that. He bought the building in 2012 and since last year, with $44 million of public and private investment, he has led the effort to bring the historic building back to life.

Here & Now‘s Robin Young spoke with Blumenfeld about the praise and concerns for the project, and took a tour through the old hotel.

“You know, there’s such a mystique,” Blumenfeld said of the building. “I’ve been doing this my whole career and I’ve never seen anything like the Divine Lorraine… This building was teetering on demolition for about a decade. And to me it was kind of representative of what this city is going to do — we were at a crossroad, and if we could not salvage such a beautiful piece of history and architecture, it made a poor statement on the future of Philadelphia.”

Hear more of Here & Now‘s coverage from the Democratic National Convention.

Follow the Here & Now election road trip on Tumblr.

Guest

Eric Blumenfeld, developer and owner of the Divine Lorraine Hotel. He is also president of EB Realty Management Corp.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Lorraine Apartments was renamed the Divine Lorraine Hotel in 1948 when it was purchased by spiritual leader Father M. J. Divine. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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The Lorraine Apartments was renamed the Divine Lorraine Hotel in 1948 when it was purchased by spiritual leader Father M. J. Divine. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

The Divine Lorraine Hotel in Philadelphia. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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The Divine Lorraine Hotel in Philadelphia. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

Because of the Lorraine's popularity, a guard is kept on duty while construction continues. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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Because of the Lorraine's popularity, a guard is kept on duty while construction continues. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

Outside of the Divine Lorraine Hotel, sign is posted about Father Divine, a spiritual leader and former owner of the hotel. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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Outside of the Divine Lorraine Hotel, sign is posted about Father Divine, a spiritual leader and former owner of the hotel. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

Developer Eric Blumenthal takes Here & Now's Robin Young on a tour of the Divine Lorraine Hotel. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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Developer Eric Blumenthal takes Here & Now's Robin Young on a tour of the Divine Lorraine Hotel. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

Graffiti on the first floor of the Divine Lorraine. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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Graffiti on the first floor of the Divine Lorraine. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

Eric Blumenthal, developer and owner of the Divine Lorraine Hotel building, shows Here & Now's Robin Young the basement level which includes an old entrance to a Prohibition era speakeasy. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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Eric Blumenthal, developer and owner of the Divine Lorraine Hotel building, shows Here & Now's Robin Young the basement level which includes an old entrance to a Prohibition era speakeasy. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

Christopher Cordero of EB Realty Management Corp. looks out the windows of the Divine Lorraine Hotel. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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Christopher Cordero of EB Realty Management Corp. looks out the windows of the Divine Lorraine Hotel. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

A bedroom in a sample apartment at the Divine Lorraine Hotel. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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A bedroom in a sample apartment at the Divine Lorraine Hotel. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

The finished living room in the Divine Lorraine Hotel's sample apartment. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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The finished living room in the Divine Lorraine Hotel's sample apartment. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

Because of the Divine Lorraine Hotel's cult following, fans are buying swag, like these shoes. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)
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Because of the Divine Lorraine Hotel's cult following, fans are buying swag, like these shoes. (Dean Russell/Here & Now)

Here & Now producer Dean Russell stands in the first floor of the  Divine Lorraine Hotel in North Philadelphia. (Robin Young/Here & Now)
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Here & Now producer Dean Russell stands in the first floor of the Divine Lorraine Hotel in North Philadelphia. (Robin Young/Here & Now)