I keep a spool of green thread in the top drawer of my desk.
It reminds me of the day, more than a decade ago, that I stood on the 10th floor of the abandoned Divine Lorraine - God's own kingdom - and stared out at Broad Street. I had grabbed the spool on a whim from a sewing tin left behind in one of the rooms. It's a remnant of a Philadelphia I wish I knew and the Philadelphia I first came to love.
When I scored a tour of the Divine Lorraine's top-floor chapel, it was still largely unchanged from more than a half century earlier, when the building first became the home to Father Divine's Universal Peace Mission. When the followers of the colorful and controversial religious leader believed it was a piece of the Promised Land. Literally heaven on earth.
When I stood in the same spot Thursday, I was in a soon-to-be-completed bi-level, two-bedroom penthouse apartment. A piece of heaven can soon be had for $2,540 a month, with the second month free if you sign now.
Change has come to the Divine.
It is becoming now what it was built to be more than a century ago: a swanky apartment house whose owner aspires for it to be the jewel of a vibrant North Broad Street.
It was indeed a jewel of Gilded Age Philadelphia, built in its ambitious, Victorian majesty for the nouveau riche of a booming city. It grew into adolescence in the largely lost world of early-20th-century Philly, a world whose inhabitants lived and played on its thriving avenues.
After that world collapsed - and after Father Divine's disciples sold their deteriorating heaven to a New York developer in 2000 - it became something else entirely: a mysterious relic of a forgotten past, towering in beautiful abandonment just blocks from City Hall, its elegant name blaring above in faded red neon.
On Wednesday, Philadelphians will have their last opportunity to have a look inside the Divine's once grand - now graffiti-covered - marble lobby before reconstruction is completed. (The upstairs floors are closer to completion, and tenants are expected to move in by November.)
The event, hosted by the Divine's developer, Eric Blumenfeld, and local designer Najeeb Sheikh, will feature a pop-up shop with the work of local artists - and Sheikh's fashion line, inspired by the Divine. They held a similar event last year. More than 3,000 mostly young people stood in line around the block. They had to turn people away.
"We're all wondering what went on in there, and we're all willing to stand in that long line just to get a look around before it changes," said Monica O, a 28-year-old illustrator from South Philadelphia, who sells beautifully detailed wood carvings of the Divine.
I get it.
What drew me to the Divine not long after I arrived in Philly were the same things that have drawn so many before and after. The sign. The broken beauty. The David Lynch weirdness.
What was, for a time, a collective entry point into our city's weird underbelly has now become something else again: a hot commodity.
Most of Sheikh's Divine Lorraine Collection sold out in just one weekend after a show last summer at the upscale Midtown Village boutique Lapstone & Hammer.
On Wednesday, Sheikh, 35, of North Philadelphia, will be selling Converse Chuck Taylors embroidered with the Divine logo ($55), Divine sweatshirts ($60), and Divine tote bags ($10). The Divine denim jacket ($100) sold out long ago.
You know we have arrived at a particular - if somewhat awkward - point in a city's resurgence when we start stamping symbols of stalled development on T-shirts.
But the Divine has always been a symbol of so much more, says Nathaniel Popkin, an editor of Hidden City Philadelphia, a website that explores Philly's architecture, design, planning, and preservation issues. A symbol of the glitz and glamour and ambition of an often-overlooked period in Philly's history, when we had the verve to build a hulking Beaux Arts palace on North Broad Street.
A symbol of Father Divine's utopian dreams, and our city's failure, for so long, to sustain many dreams at all on North Broad. A symbol of a world Philly strove to become a century ago and is only just now becoming again.
"It is a symbol of our generation's willingness to embrace Philly's greatness," Popkin said.
On Wednesday, Blumenfeld, the developer, proudly wore his black Divine Lorraine Chuck Taylors when he took me on a tour of the Divine: to the downstairs rooms that will become a speakeasy bar, to the ground-floor retail spaces that will hold restaurants, a gym, cafes, and a boutique, to Mother Divine's old room, which has been divided into two apartments.
To that upstairs chapel where I had stood a decade ago and looked out onto Broad Street. Up there, there were no more spools of thread to be had as souvenirs. Just a really great view of a changing street, and a changing city.