Updated: Thursday, September 17, 2015, 1:07 PM
Outside, a dense line of people wait, stand, and move only a few yards per hour. The guards at the door are exclusively allowing 30 to 50 folks in at a time to see the lobby of Philadelphia’s hauntingly beautiful, 10-story mystery: the Divine Lorraine.
Wednesday at 1 p.m. Philadelphia city officials, including Mayor Michael Nutter, gathered inside and outside of the building for the hotel’s official groundbreaking. A few hours later, the hotel’s lobby would transform from a space filled with suits and high heels to a relaxed, art-filled explorer’s dream.
“It’s kind of like a myth, actually,” says 19-year-old Philly native Nadira Goffe. “It’s like a piece of cultural history.”
The formerly abandon building allured photographers and urban explorers for many years. Only recently, after Blumenfeld bought up the property, did high security measures prevent thrill seekers from entering at any time.
At 4:30 p.m., she and fellow Temple student Thalia Simpson have been waiting in a more than two-block-long queue of anticipating hopefuls, finally being granted the chance to see inside the historic building and view a limited Divine Lorraine clothing collection.
“I spent my whole life in this area,” says Alicia Talia. For her, exploring the hotel’s lobby, adorned with graffiti and a new mural by Philly artist NoseGo, “revealed the truth” about the rumors and stories that surrounded the unknown.
Forty-six-year-old Kenya Abdul says he’s been in a lot of abandoned places but has yet to make it inside the Divine Lorraine until today. Just seeing the architecture is one of the reason’s he’s lingering outside, but not the only one.
“I’m here because of the clothing line,” Abdul says. He’s referring to an instrumental reason behind the lobby tour opportunity: Najeeb Sheikh’s Divine Lorraine Hotel Collection II.
The first round of the collection debuted on July 31 at Lapstone & Hammer with products selling out in the first 20 minutes. Developer Eric Blumenfeld caught wind of the collection and liked it so much he wanted the concepts to be incorporated into the groundbreaking.
Some art from Lapstone & Hammer’s original Divine Lorraine launch made its way inside the hotel, including a paper sculpture rendering of the iconic Divine Lorraine sign by artist Drew Leshko.
The sign, he says, was actually purchased by someone in New York City who doesn’t even know what the Divine Lorraine is.
By 5 p.m., The Decades Hats Co. owner and Divine Lorraine Hotel Collection collaborator Brooks Bell says they’ve almost completely sold out of products. But that doesn’t seem to be his main focus.
A box set up for Big Brother Big Sister donations sits to the right of the cash register in the small, back-of-the-lobby pop-up shop.
“That box is full,” Bell says. Ten percent of sales automatically went to benefit the organization, and buyers who donated received a commemorative Divine Lorraine Collection keychain.
Despite her more than two-hour wait, Sarah Lis says it was well worth it. “We’re obviously here for the building. It’s like a secret,” she says.
Upon hearing about her satisfaction, Bell’s face brightens. “Well that makes it all worth it, doesn’t it?”
The pop-up shop is set to close at 7 p.m. By 6:45, the length of bodies around the block still hasn't changed, until a guard makes an announcement that the time has passed for patrons to pass through the majestic buidling's front doors.