Hotal as History

My thoughts wander, as I lose myself amongst the people of Philadelphia. I stare out from my Septa bus seat, as I anticipate the most unique hotel experience that I have yet to have during my travels. No, it is not an overnight stay with the comfort of 100% Egyptian cotton sheets in a swanky 5 star hotel.  Nope, it is not my eagerness to see the art installation at a top Philly boutique hotel. My stomach flutters as I make my way to the Divine Tracey Hotel.


I have always been a geek when it came to the offbeat travel spots. I never made it my mission to venture into the spots that locals never thought to visit or even knew existed. So, when my research lead me to a Philadelphia hotel ran by a majority African American staff, I became ultra-excited.


Without much hesitation, I called the property and booked a night in the summer of 2005. I had no idea that the hotel was slated for a possible closure in 2006. Forget the Concord jet folks, I have the real bragging rights. I’m a history geek, alright. The reservation process was standard. Dates, contact details, credit card guarantee, and a review of the 24-hour cancellation policy. Normal. As I looked further into the history of the hotel and its namesake, I became enthralled in a history that led me to the life of a sensational figure, Father Divine.


Father Divine was a charismatic force. His International Peace Mission Church has been an influential, yet controversial, religious movement that led to the developing of many businesses, schools, and community organizations throughout the United States during the Great Depression (late 1920s to late 1930s). Congregations, businesses both nonprofit and for-profit covered the North Atlantic region. Philadelphia became home to two great business ventures, the Devine Lorraine and the Divine Tracey hotels. Considering its noble start, a guest at both properties could only be prepared to only utilize the quarters for a righteous slumber.  Ahem.


I got off of the bus and was drawn to a multilevel apartment distinctive to residential buildings of the 1920s. No real art deco style besides the throwback sign on the façade. The neighborhood, at that time, seemed to be predominately African American and residential. My mind raced a mile-a-minute as I walked up to the reception. I was met with an African American woman in her late 60s with a hairdo straight out of a young Berry Gordy Motown Revue catalogue. “Hello…I…have a reservation,” I said while trying to force a smile. Or, should I have not smiled and appeared serious in the eyes of the lord? I didn’t know. What I did know, however, was that I was well prepared with my modestly length skirt. I read that women were discouraged from wearing pants within all of sites affiliated with the International Peace Movement. At that moment, I wanted so nothing more than to be a good girl.


What seemed like forever, the receptionist reviewed a long list of restrictions and asked if I was with my husband. For whatever reason, I paused and proceeded to say no. She made no comment and said that there were to be no visitors in my room. I agreed and signed the waiver. If you haven’t guessed it already, the hotel has a strict segregation of the sexes. I proceeded to my room and pretended that I was stepping into a time warp back into the 1950s.


Although worn, dated, and ultra simple, my room served mainly to feed my curiosity of staying in a relic from the past. I drifted into a deep sleep while thinking about my stay at a historic hotel that conjures up a unique part of the African American legacy. I do remember my journey to the infamous Mutter Museum the next morning. Sure glad I packed my shorts and flip-flops in my backpack for a quick change in the restroom.


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