By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — After decades of decay, a North Broad Street landmark finally seems ready to spring back to life. The city’s Historical Commission on Friday approved a top-to-bottom renovation of the long-shuttered Divine Lorraine Hotel.
There was nothing but praise from members of the Historical Commission as they okayed developer Eric Blumenfeld’s plan to rehab the Divine Lorraine into apartments and restaurants.
Architect William Alesker watched the commission’s vote with pleasure.
“It was readily accepted because we spent a lot of time trying to get it right,” Alesker said.
Getting it right meant trying to match a 1933 renovation of the Divine Lorraine, and that involved some digging said Alesker.
“Our goal is to put it back as it was originally, in the 1933 design,” Alesker stated. “It’s a challenge doing the research to find out what was really there. It involved the investigation of old photographs, and just general research into what was there before. So it’s a challenge, but great fun to do.”
The Divine Lorraine dates from the late 19th century, and for decades was considered one of the top Philadelphia hotels. It was also the first to be racially integrated. The building is now just a shell, full of graffiti, decay and occasional squatters.
Other developers have tried without success to revive the site. Alesker said 3 things will make Blumenfeld’s plan successful.
“I think its timing, its demand. And its courage,” Alesker stated.
The architect said the plan is for 101 apartments on floors 2 through 11, as well as 8 units in an annex building. The basement will be converted into a sunken garden, with restaurants there and on the first floor.
The project will cost an estimated $28 million dollars, and Blumenfeld is relying in part on federal tax credits that are contingent on the preservation of historic aspects of the building.
“That was very important, number one, because the developer wanted to see it done properly,” Alesker said. “But also to get the tax credits from the federal government.”
Alesker said once a building permit is secured, the developer hopes to begin construction next month. The entire project, he says, will take 18 months.