CLEARWATER: In 1930, a hotel brochure bragged: "Along Florida's Gulf Coast, the Fort Harrison Hotel is regarded as a symbol of good and gracious living. Eleven stories in height, this beautiful edifice is outlined for miles up and down the coast... the balconied roof gardens overlook the islands and waters of Clearwater Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Beautiful lobbies, palm gardens and terraces atop the hotel, mezzanine lounge and writing rooms opening on broad tiled balconies, dining rooms... all furnished luxuriously, these will delight you at the Fort Harrison."
Visitors today will now have an opportunity to revisit this grandeur. In celebration of the 83rd Anniversary of the Fort Harrison in downtown Clearwater, property owner the Church of Scientology, Flag Service Organization is proud to announce a series of weekly open houses called "Sundays at the Fort Harrison." This event runs every Sunday from 11:30 - 2:30 and is free to the public.
In addition to historical tours of the facility, guests are also invited to find out about the origins of Scientology and the biography of its Founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Included in this presentation is information about Mr. Hubbard's days as a glider pilot and Engineering student at George Washington University during the 1920's.
At the same time, Clearwater was thriving. The Florida land boom had not yet gone bust. People came to Clearwater to experience the healthful air and snowbird social life that flourished here during "the season".
Like other Florida cities, Clearwater was quickly outgrowing itself. With more than 100 real estate brokerage offices in downtown attracting potential clients to the city, fast action was needed to handle the flood of tourists and potential residents pouring in.
Ed Haley, a real estate developer with his fingers in many pies, saw an opportunity. His friends, counting on his enterprising nature, took Mr. Haley aside. They told him that the city's hotels were swamped; what was needed was a great big commercial hotel and he was just the man to build it. Inspired, he swiftly gathered up the funds for this venture. This included gambling $1 million of his money to pay for the $2 million hotel.
Excitement in the city ran high as the Fort Harrison Hotel began to take shape. A full-page ad in the local press readied the locals for its grand opening in December of '26. Calling the Hotel "The Aristocrat of Florida Hotels" the Fort Harrison was to offer "every comfort and convenience."
The grand opening event for the Fort Harrison was the New Year's Eve event that ushered in 1927.
At eleven stories, with high-scale amenities that were at that time only found in the most modern of New York hotels, the Fort Harrison quickly attracted a healthy amount of tourists. Further advertisements in the Clearwater Sun tempted locals to come in for dinner and dancing at the Rooftop Restaurant for a cover charge of $1.
The decades passed, and the Fort Harrison weathered a Great Depression, the Second World War, the changes brought about by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. It was then in the mid-1970's, in the middle of a dying urban landscape, that the Church of Scientology purchased the Fort Harrison.
Though renovations and restoration actions have been done in the decades since, in April of 2008, the Church of Scientology undertook detailed renovations to restore the aging facility to its former grandeur and beyond.
Completed in 2009, this renovation began when the Fort Harrison was stripped virtually bare and rebuilt from its core. Particular care was taken to make the work and the final product environmentally friendly. This included recycled "blue jean" insulation, high efficiency water systems to reduce consumption and energy- efficient lighting, electrical and air conditioning.
Despite all the modernization, the Fort Harrison still bears its hallmark historical touches, as well as restoring architectural detail that had been lost in the building's "modernization" in the 1950's. Community groups have also flocked back to the Fort Harrison for their special events.
Since the Fort Harrison's grand re-opening in March of 2009, groups such as the North Greenwood Community Coalition, Jazztorians, the Sunscreen Film Festival and the Clearwater Downtown Partnership have utilized the facility for their fundraisers.
For more information and for scheduling tours and booking private and community events, contact Lisa Mansell at (727) 467-6860.
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