Daybreak in the Beury Building Penthouse, 2012. The National Bank of North Philadelphia - now commonly referred to as the Beury Building - is a National Register of Historic Places-listed building that has been abandoned since the early 1980s. Originally a lavish 11-story Art Deco bank tower, it was later converted for mixed-use, including a 3-story Penthouse on top, crowned by a pyramidal roof. The now-14-story building is the largest in North Philly, and the only significant Art Deco building left in the entire city. And yet, it has been left to rot for 30 years. Pictured here is the top floor of the Penthouse during the Blue Hour, when the first strains of daylight were lazily reaching the sky.
Reaching the Penthouse is another matter, and anything but lazy - the stairs are almost completely gone, and only a set of dodgy wooden planks separates the climber from a painful (or deadly) fall of between 1-4 stories. The building owners who commissioned me to photograph the tower for some “before renovation” photos advised me that I did not need to photograph this section as it was “inaccessible”. Of course, I “accessed” it. In the top image, a wide view of this floor, the glass of the windows long since broken out. In the center image, an individual viewing window. And in the bottom image, a detail of the view out the same window - whoever once lived here had a wonderful view of a once-affluent neighborhood, now dominated by liquor stores, pawn shops, and shady characters. This view was worth the sketchy climb.
Grand chapel on the top floor of the Divine Lorraine Hotel, 2006. The Divine Lorraine has a storied and interesting history, which began with a rather tame (by his own standards) Willis G. Hale-designed 10-story luxury apartment building constructed in North Philadelphia in the 1890s. Of course, by the standards of the day, the building was gaudy, absurdly ornamental, and generally over-the-top, but much less so than some of Hale’s other buildings - most of which are now gone. It was eventually converted into a hotel - and then the hotel was purchased by the Reverend Major Jealous Divine, the leader of a congregation that preached, among other things, complete abstinence from earthly pleasures, including drinking, smoking, gambling, cursing, wearing revealing clothing - and any form of sex. Thus, sexes were segregated by floor; Divine slept in a room a floor above that his wife slept on, and their marriage was never consummated. But quirks aside, Divine preached integration from very early on - it was an integral part of his Peace Mission Movement from at least the early 1940s. The Divine Lorraine was the first integrated hotel in Philadelphia, and a civil rights landmark. In 1944, Johnny Mercer attended a sermon by Divine entitled “You got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative”. He turned it into the popular hit song. Sadly, due to the lack of procreation from Divine’s teachings on abstinence, the congregation died out, and by 2005, only one tenant remained - David Peace, the last member of the Peace Mission Movement, who watched over the building alone for many years. In 2006, unethical developer Michael Treacy Jr. purchased the foreclosed hotel, gutted it for architectural salvage, and left it to rot; today it is a graffitied gutted shell. For more on the Divine Lorraine, read my blog post here.
A handful of digitized materials from HSP’s collections illustrating the oppression, resistance, and resilience of Black people in America. There is no shortage of materials for understanding the historical context and importance of last night’s and today’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri–whether at your local public library or at special collections libraries and archives.
The roof of the Beury Building about a half-hour before sunrise, between nautical and civil twilight. The Beury - originally known as the National Bank of North Philadelphia - is a 14-story bank tower built in North Philly in 1926. It has the distinction of being the only Art Deco building in Philadelphia outside of the city center, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.