The Divine Lorraine Hotel

The same partnership also owns the Divine Lorraine Hotel which is two blocks away on the east side of Broad St. The Divine Lorraine, once home to Father Divine's Peace Mission Movement, a spiritual group that helped advance Civil Rights, is considered to be one of Philadelphia's most significant historic architectural gems. Father Divine was a colorful celebrity preacher, famous for the free feasts that he hosted for the followers in Harlem. In 1939 he arrived on the scene in Philadelphia in a 16-car train, which he called the "Divine Special". He took the City by storm acquiring the Lorraine Hotel and renaming it "The Divine Lorraine" in 1939. Father Divine was a self proclaimed deity who once said "If any other person has a god that will cause the people to do more than I cause them to do, bring him forth and I will worship him". The deity fell, but the Divine Lorraine still has intact a hand-painted mural in the dining hall that has the preacher's achievements. "FREEDOM," it reads, "Abraham Lincoln Spoke About It. Father Divine Brought It About." In June 1932, New York Supreme Court Justice, Louis J. Smith, fined Father Divine $500 and sentenced him to one year in prison. Four days later, Smith, who was in his fifties and believed to be in very good health, suddenly died of a heart attack. Father Divine was quoted from his cell as saying "I hated to do it". After that episode, Father Divine's popularity exploded. The Divine Lorraine is in constant demand as a movie back drop with the most recent filming of the Hollywood blockbuster "Shadow Boxer" starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. The partnership plans a 135 condo conversion to begin in early 2005


Pressler's MiscellanyThat Dirty Lowdown

by Joey Sweeney 


Sometime last year, this kid Jeff Elstone gave me a videocassette called Staring Is Not Polite--a film he'd made for his studies at Temple, where he's currently a senior. It was quite unlike anything I'd ever seen: a bare-bones documentary with no commentary whatsoever, just taking in what happens at a dance at a local community center where, it just so happens, nearly every single person on camera has Down syndrome. The film's title says it all, and sure enough, a sort of voyeuristic pleasure comes in the film's opening seconds, and from there it veers between a queasy, sick feeling (something about Elstone's silent delivery plays havoc with notions of ridicule and propriety) and a deep calm, as one spies what is, at its heart, just a very natural social setting for people who usually have anything but. It gives a new spin to the way people normally use the word "disturbing" in reference to movies: In Staring, Elstone made something that is as much an indictment of anyone who has ever made fun of the mentally handicapped (and that includes me and probably you too, buster) as it is a sort of impossibly sweet lost little document of the modern world. These people, swaying to Journey in a gymnasium somewhere, might have been having some of the last unselfconscious fun of our times. Even if the film is hard to watch once in a while--if only because we've been so conditioned not to--the payoff in the amount (and quality) of thinking you do afterward is worth the price of admission. I say all this because Elstone is banging at the door of his senior thesis, and realizing, quite pragmatically, that "it could be the last time in a while that I'm really in a position to have as much creative freedom as I do right now." So he's going for broke: His senior project is going to be a stylized thriller concerning a 1930s opera singer who's disenchanted, gorgeous and living, of all places, at a place called the Divine Hotel. Elstone's hoping to film at the Divine Lorraine Hotel--perhaps Philly's best monument to dilapidated glory in a city literally filled with them. If it plays with the heartstrings as much as Staring Is Not Polite did, expect magic. Shooting begins with a 20-person crew next month, and what all of this means is that Jeff Elstone needs some cash. To facilitate this, the good people of Trust--the restaurant where he works, who also, oddly, now possess the deed on the Divine Lorraine--are throwing a benefit for the project. It features, quite inexplicably, a contortionist. Ten bucks gets you a patron status that may well prove a conversation starter years down the line.

>> Fri., Feb. 21, 11pm. $10. Trust, 13th and Sansom sts. 215.629.1300


Film Review -- Mother Divine
Wed., April 14, 5pm. $9. International House, 3701 Chestnut St. 215.733.0608


Driving up North Broad on any given day, it's hard to miss the looming shadow of the Divine Lorraine Hotel, a 300-room abandoned landmark that harkens back to North Philly's late-19th-century heyday. Shot in early 2003, when filmmaker Jeff Elstone was a senior at Temple, Mother Divine is a gorgeous miniature film, utilizing moody lighting, angular camerawork, antique props and sparse dialogue to create a singular and strange vision. Elstone gained entrance to the old hotel during a series of lengthy negotiations with building owner Goldman Properties, eventually meeting Tony Goldman himself at the now-defunct Trust (which Goldman owned and where Elstone worked at the time). Reminiscent of the architectural fetishizing of the Chrysler Building in Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3, Mother Divine lays claim to being the only film to be shot inside the hotel. It's an homage to both the history of the building and the golden age of cinema. (Erik Bader)


For a contemporary perspective on the hotel, see: