Community Attends Milestone Celebration
75th Anniversary of the Fort Harrison Marks New Phase for Clearwater’s Venerable Hotel
It was a black-tie gala befitting the diamond anniversary of downtown Clearwater’s grande dame, the Fort Harrison Hotel. Five hundred dignitaries and guests from all over the Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa regions gathered for the celebration on January 26, 2002 with its live entertainment, dinner and tours.
Many called the event a milestone for Clearwater—not only commemorating 75 years of the city’s most well known landmark but welcoming a new era for its role as a community hub.
“This is a place that has a lot of fond memories in the hearts of a lot of folks who live here and grew up in the city,” said Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst, who spoke at the opening festivities of the anniversary occasion. “The fact that the Fort Harrison Hotel is once again a key part of the community is good for everyone.”
Mayor Aungst described the event as one that marked an era of even more openness, hospitality and cooperation between the city and the building’s owner and caretaker since 1975, the Church of Scientology.
Guests to the evening’s celebration enjoyed dinner and special performances by a variety of top entertainers who are also Church members. They included singer Carl Anderson (best known for his role as Judas in the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”), Elena Rogero, one of Italy’s top recording artists, and internationally renowned, award-winning jazz pianist Chick Corea, who currently makes his home in Clearwater.
Afterwards, the guests were invited to tour the Fort Harrison and to see the work the Church has done to restore the facility to its original splendor and beyond. They were encouraged to use the public spaces including the auditorium, the 10th floor Crystal Ballroom and the Hibiscus Restaurant for their own special occasions.
“A Key Role”
“I grew up in Clearwater and I remember when the hotel was the center of the tourist economy in Clearwater. It’s great to see the luster return [and] to see the love of the history of the building return, and to walk through these corridors and see the hotel being so cared for.”
– County Commissioner Calvin Harris
For three quarters of a century, the Fort Harrison has been the city’s most recognizable landmark and a center for its social life, and the setting for important events in the lives of many residents throughout the Bay Area.
The 75th anniversary celebration was no exception. In fact, the evening could just as well have been the topic of a Clearwater Sun article reporting on the keynote event of the hotel’s opening on December 21, 1926:
“One of the most brilliant social events in the history of Clearwater was celebrated at the Ft. Harrison Hotel last night on the occasion of the formal opening of the roof garden. More than 500 guests dined and danced in the new institution that is one of the most attractively and richly decorated dining rooms on the west coast of Florida.”
The significance of the 75th anniversary events, however, went beyond a beautiful decor and esteemed guests.
“The church is playing a key role in the community,” Mayor Aungst said. “We need to work together to bring positive changes that will make downtown Clearwater a vibrant, alive place. I think it’s well on its way and if we all work together, we will make it happen.”
State Representative Kim Berfield echoed the Mayor’s sentiments.
“As long as we continue to work together with the focus and goal to make our community stronger and a better place where more people will want to come and visit,” she said, “we can only grow from there.”
The gala kicked off a continuing open house during which thousands of members of the community have come to enjoy the Fort Harrison, visit the elegant Crystal Ballroom, view the Gulf from the tenth floor balcony and dine in the restaurants.
More of the hotel’s facilities will be available to the public by the end of 2003, after the Church of Scientology’s new ministerial training and counseling center, currently under construction across Fort Harrison Avenue from the hotel, opens. At present, training and counseling services as well as administration are conducted on three floors of the Fort Harrison—activities which will move to the new building.
Community interest and response encouraged the Church to extend the schedule of its open house and to make the facilities already available to local citizens even more well known.