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 Published by the Church of Scientology International

The Fort Harrison 75 Years in the Heart of Clearwater
 
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Freedom Magazine, published by the Church of Scientology


The Fort Harrison 75 Years in the Heart of Clearwater


A community landmark for decades, the Fort Harrison shines brighter than ever.


Events in the Fort Harrison
The Fort Harrison has been the center of social life in downtown during periods of its 75 years in the heart of Clearwater. Visitors today recall their cotillions, weddings, club meetings and senior proms of decades past. Brought back from a diminished state by the Church of Scientology, the Fort Harrison is available for public use and has once again become a favorite setting for social events and shines especially brightly during the holidays.

 I
  haven’t been here since my cotillion,” said the woman visitor, pensive as she walked across the polished black and white marble floor, pausing to gaze at the fine furnishings beneath the lofty windows and the high-sculpted walls and ceiling. “It looks even better now than it did then.”

Such comments are common when area residents, who spent their youth in the Tampa Bay area, visit the landmark Fort Harrison Hotel in the heart of downtown Clearwater.

Owned by the Church of Scientology since 1975, the building has been in use continually as a hotel for visiting Church members from around the world and for various Church services. But many of the rooms of the hotel, such as the magnificent Crystal Ballroom on the tenth floor, have been open to general public use for years.

And now, managers of the Fort Harrison are preparing for the day in 2003 when the Church’s new ministerial training and counseling center will open directly across the street from the hotel. At that time, the ministerial facilities currently housed in the Fort Harrison will be moved to the new building — reverting three floors of the building to hotel rooms for use by parishioners.

At the same time, more of the Fort Harrison’s facilities will be opened to the public, available for the use of the Clearwater community.

Social Center for Decades

As one of the city’s historic landmarks, the Fort Harrison offers the community a unique venue for special events and functions. If its past predicts the future, then the Fort Harrison will continue to fulfill its promise with benefits to the community at large.

Leafing through archival editions of the Clearwater Sun, one finds glowing reports of events held in the grand hotel in its early years. In 1927, for instance, the Rooftop Restaurant provided nightly entertainment. For a cover charge of $1.00, one would find, according to the Sun, “an environment that is pleasant to the most fastidious. The atmosphere is so congenial and the company so select that diners return again and again with the prospect of perfect enjoyment ever undiminished. A superb entertainment, irresistible dance music and a floor protected from overcrowding by a judicious limit on the number of reservations....”

In the decades after it opened, the hotel hosted the sparkling lights of Clearwater society for fashion shows, bridge tournaments, Kiwanis and Rotary Club meetings, wedding receptions and the annual George Washington’s Birthday Ball. It also serviced Uncle Sam during the years of World War II (see Clearwater in World War II). And in the 1950s and ’60s, one could find members of the Clearwater Phillies sneaking in after curfew during spring training season, or Clearwater High’s seniors posed on the rooftop patio for a yearbook photo during their Senior Prom.

However, the early 1970s found the hotel failing.

Although the building remained structurally sound, architectural details had been hidden by efforts to “modernize” the interior in preceding decades. One previous owner covered over the original marble floor in the lobby and hung an air conditioning unit directly over the crystal chandelier in the Crystal Ballroom.

The Grande Dame of Clearwater

The Church of Scientology purchased the hotel in 1975, and undertook detailed renovation, from the top down through each floor, to the restaurants, auditorium and gardens on the ground floor, restoring the entire building to its former grandeur.

Events in the Fort Harrison
The Fort Harrison hosts community events in the 10th floor Crystal Ballroom (above). Restoration of the hotel’s Cabanas included exterior and sidewalks (left). In all respects the hotel matches its original grandeur.

As part of the renovations, Church staff members reconstructed the elements that made the hotel the Grande Dame of Clearwater in its heyday.

Moldings for the ceiling of the Crystal Ballroom, for example, were carefully recreated by hand-carving new molds and reviving the decorative art of plaster ceiling work. Wool carpet was designed and produced in Scotland to reflect the pattern of the marquetry in the oval mezzanine over the ballroom. The same pattern can be seen in the large oval dance floor gracing the center of the room. New gold leafing was applied in tasteful accents throughout the grand room, and paintings of historical figures in Clearwater’s past, created by Scientologist artists, now line the walls. The air conditioning unit that had loomed over the crystal chandelier was covered with beautiful grill work, adding an elegant architectural flourish to the ceiling.

The mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems of the building were upgraded to the highest standards of modern building codes.

Recently, the hotel has been further improved upon, with the addition of new ventilation and plumbing systems. The black and white marble tile floor in the lobby of the hotel shines as brightly as the day it was installed. The restaurants, elevators and auditorium impress visitors with their authentic, early 20th century look. Rich, green gardens line the pool, and the Cabanas, rooms added behind the swimming pool by the Jack Tar Corporation decades ago, have also been renovated and refurbished, reflecting a West Indies theme.

Community Welcome

The improvements made to the hotel have not gone unnoticed by those touring the facility. Many, such as the woman who had not been inside the hotel since her cotillion, say it looks better than they ever remember. Its beauty and charm have been commented upon repeatedly at the many wedding receptions, anniversary parties and charity functions held at the Fort Harrison over the years.

“We hold about two events a month with community members who want to use the Fort Harrison for their special occasions,” said Convention and Events Manager Jenny Ramsauer, adding that wedding receptions and parties are the most common. “The word of mouth has been phenomenal. What began with a couple of wedding receptions has become a continuous activity for us.”

...........................

In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Fort Harrison as a historical landmark in Clearwater, the Church of Scientology will be holding three full weeks of open house, tours and special events from January 26 to February 17, 2002.

For more information and for scheduling tours and booking private and community events, contact Lisa Cook at (727) 467-6860.

...........................
Ramsauer said most of the community events are held by Clearwater or Tampa Bay area residents, but out-of-towners are welcome, too. She said no detail is too small when it comes to servicing public needs. By way of example, she described recently hosting a traditional Hindu wedding for 600 people, complete with all of the authentic Indian ceremonial items they needed to ensure the wedding was a success.

“We want the Fort Harrison to again be the social center of the community,” says Church spokeswoman Lisa Cook. “The hotel is an asset to Clearwater, and a part of the happy memories of many residents. We are always open to visitors and all in the community are welcome.”

In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Fort Harrison as a historical landmark in Clearwater, the Church of Scientology will be holding three full weeks of open house, tours and special events from January 26 to February 17, 2002.

Groups, organizations and families are encouraged to hold their special functions in the Fort Harrison during this period, “so residents may begin to see the Fort Harrison as a resource for them and the community as a whole,” said Cook.

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