Hours after politicians and developers left the Divine Lorraine groundbreaking on Wednesday, a line of people two blocks long was still outside the building.
But these visitors weren’t drawn to the historic structure on North Broad Street by the new condos that will be built there.
They were there to see a pop-up shop in the paint-chipped, shabby-chic lobby of the former hotel on North Broad Street, where a collection of Divine Lorraine-themed apparel and accessories by local designer Najeeb Sheikh were on sale.
More than 7,000 people RSVPed to the pop-up shop event on Facebook, some waiting for more than an hour to get in, and around 5:30 p.m., people in line beyond a certain point were frustrated to find they were cut off.
To Caryn Kunkle, who has for five years been lobbying for state and city support to create the Philadelphia Interactive Museum of Contemporary Art inside the Divine Lorraine, that crowd shows the building’s strongest attraction is to the artistic community of Philadelphia.
“What drew all the people today was art,” she said. “High end condos are not doing the Section 8 housing and the homeless shelter any favors, but a museum that has programs for the Section 8 residents and children … would really build a bridge between the uper and lower classes.”
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But there are no set plans for an art institution. For now, developers Eric Blumenfeld and William Procida are moving forward with plans to put 109 condos and 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail in the 10-story building.
Blumenfeld said before breaking ground on the project Wednesday that it was “the proudest day of my career.”
“This building has a mystique, a spirit,” he said. “It’s an organism. It’s alive. It has a heartbeat. Maybe it was hibernating for 15 years, but we’re going to turn the lights on.”
Kunkle, 33, who lives just blocks away, is in talks with Blumenfeld about finding space for her proposal. She said her vision — a museum and interactive arts space with room for multiple arts organizations — needs at least 100,000 square feet.
“They’re not showing up to see the floor plan of the condos. They’re showing up to see the artists’ work in the lobby of the Divine Lorraine,” she said of the hundreds who turned out Wednesday evening. “What that groundbreaking was celebrating was gentrification.”
Local Carl Geter, 64, was positive on the condo project, although not on the impact it could have on parking locally.
“They needed to do something with it,” he said. “Philadelphia has too many old buildings just sitting around.”
A Philly relic
The Divine Lorraine at Fairmount Ave and Broad Street was named that by Father Divine, a quasi-religious leader of the early 20th century who declared Philadelphia to be capital of the world.
Designed by architect Willis G. Hale and built in 1892, it was used for apartments and a hotel until 1948 when it was acquired by Father Divine, who renamed it the Divine Lorraine and turned it into the headquarters of his Divine Peace Mission Movement.
The Movement sold the building in 1999.
Since then it has sat unused, a popular target for graffiti artists.