“Welcome to the Fort Harrison Hotel”
Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of “Clearwater’s Heritage Hotel”
Visitors and residents from around the Tampa Bay area flood in for tours at weekly open house
The questions came thick and fast every day for weeks, as residents toured through the landmark Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, owned by the Church of Scientology as an international religious retreat since 1975.
“What is Scientology?”
“Can you hold the open house every week? Can I bring my family or friends?”
“When is your new building going to be done?”
Everyone seemed to have a different reason for wanting to visit. Many wanted to see for themselves the event, meeting and restaurant facilities within the Fort Harrison now open for use by the general public. Long-time residents wanted to relive happy memories of growing up in Clearwater: a high-school cotillion in the Crystal Ballroom, that Christmas dinner in the Hibiscus Room or lazy summer Sundays spent relaxing in the sun at poolside. Snowbirds were drawn by curiosity about the historical architectural restorations of the past 25 years. But for many who stepped onto the marbled floor of the lobby for the first time, they had simply “always wanted to know what was inside.”
What they found were top-notch and well-maintained restorations of decor and furnishings throughout the building—which the Church accomplished in large measure by undoing changes of preceding owners, as many architectural details had been hidden by efforts to “modernize” the landmark.
Wrought iron work and brass railings throughout the lobby, first floor and mezzanine were fully restored, while the marble floor was entirely replaced due to age, and new lighting fixtures and furnishings were added to recreate the original atmosphere of elegance.
“Events of All Kinds”
Leading off from the lobby, visitors saw the additions made to the Fort Harrison since it first opened in 1926, including a rear wing housing the 1,500-seat Grand Auditorium and “the Cabanas”—85 guest rooms now renovated in a West Indies theme nestled in tropical greenery at the back of the hotel. Both annexations were made during the 1950s when the Jack Tar Corporation, then the Fort Harrison’s owner, undertook an extensive modernization of the hotel.
The Grand Auditorium has a rich history all of its own, having hosted such jazz greats as Woody Herman, Harry James, Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. These concerts were the forerunners of Clearwater’s now nationally famous annual Jazz Holiday.
Tour guides explained that the auditorium remains a focal point for a variety of events, celebrations and functions, large and small. Special weekly events for members of the Church of Scientology are held in the expansive facility, which is also available to the community for weddings, banquets, conventions and local charity functions. Among the most well known annual events held in the Fort Harrison Auditorium is the annual Foster Children’s Christmas Party, sponsored by the Church in coordination with the Department of Children and Family Services.
The hotel tour also took in the fine restaurants, the Hibiscus and the Lemon Tree. The Hibiscus is open to the general public for Sunday brunches and dinners by reservation.
The health conscious were naturally interested in the perfect complement to the dining facilities: the hotel’s full service fitness center, including a gamut of professional exercise equipment, and saunas.
The tour also took visitors to the top floors, including the Crystal Ballroom—once known as the “Rooftop Restaurant”—and 10th floor terrace with its views of the Gulf and downtown Clearwater.
As Jenny Ramsauer, Director of Conventions and Events for the Fort Harrison told visitors, “the ballroom today hosts weddings, receptions, anniversary parties, orchestra recitals, poetry readings, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troop meetings, dances and other events of all kinds.”
Visitors learned that the Fort Harrison is more than just a well-restored, historic hotel, but it has been an international religious retreat for members of the Church of Scientology for more than 26 years.
Their tour guides explained how the central practices of the Scientology religion are ministerial training and auditing (from the Latin word “audire” meaning “to listen”), a unique form of personal counseling which enables an individual to increase his awareness and understanding of his spiritual nature. Auditing is delivered by an auditor, a minister highly trained in exact methods of this counseling unique to Scientology.
Church members—Scientologists—generally also train to become auditors themselves. In doing so, they gain a thorough understanding of the Scientology religious philosophy and basic principles, and learn to help others on a one-on-one basis with an actual spiritual technology that has a broad and practical application to all aspects of life.
One of the fundamental principles of the Scientology religion is that an individual can improve his condition by discovering his own answers to life’s problems. What is addressed in auditing is his ability to make those discoveries; as a result a person can then isolate factors that are hindering his survival and happiness, and handle whatever might be holding him back.
While auditing and training services are available at churches of Scientology around the world, the Fort Harrison, as the international spiritual headquarters for the religion, plays a unique and vital role. It provides advanced and special church services available nowhere else, and thus ministers to the hundreds of parishioners who arrive daily from around the world—from as far away as Tokyo, Moscow, Johannesburg or Sydney, Australia.
“See a Thought”
One feature of the tour visitors found particularly fascinating was the demonstration of the electropsychometer, or “E-Meter”, a ministerial tool used by auditors in personal counseling to locate areas of distress or travail.
The E-Meter device is a highly sensitive electronic instrument that measures the spiritual state or change of state of a person. When the E-Meter is operating and a person holds the meter’s electrodes, a tiny flow of electrical energy (less than a flashlight battery) passes through the person’s body and back into the meter. He feels nothing, but changes in what the person is thinking in response to the auditor’s questioning can then be detected in needle reactions on the meter’s dial. These guide the auditor toward areas of upset and help him determine what to address.
Visitors were given a special demonstration of the E-Meter and how it works, that enabled them to “see a thought.” The general response was, “This really works!”
Weekly Fort Harrison Open House
“The open house gave us an opportunity to invite our neighbors in, get to know them, show them how beautiful the Fort Harrison still is and answer their questions about Scientology.” – Pat Harney, Church of Scientology
These were but a few of the experiences the thousands of area residents enjoyed on their visit to the Fort Harrison open house. Many were also particularly attracted to the special photographic exhibit on the life of Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard
, housed on the 10th floor in the Crystal Ballroom. (See also “Images of a Lifetime”.
“The open house gave us an opportunity to invite our neighbors in, get to know them, show them how beautiful the Fort Harrison still is and answer their questions about Scientology,” said Pat Harney, the Church’s Public Affairs Director.
A commonly heard comment of guests was, “I had no idea this was all happening in this building.”
Tours were often capped with a lunch or dinner at the Hibiscus Restaurant, which quickly became a popular destination for guests of the open house. The food is prepared by an international cadre of chefs, and the restaurant is overseen by the maitre d’ who once served the celebrity patrons of the world-famous Chasen’s Restaurant in the heart of Hollywood. Comments were uniformly rave.
“Our waiter was marvelous,” said one guest. “The meal was superb.”
“I am not used to royalty type service like that,” said another.
Due to the popularity of the open houses, they will carry on weekly. The Hibiscus restaurant will continue to be open to the public for Sunday Brunch and dinner and regular tours will be held of the hotel and the “Images of a Lifetime” photo exhibit.
For more information call Pat Harney, (727) 467-6860.