With hotels filled to capacity, the Army Air Corps sometimes housed recruits in temporary tent barracks in St. Petersburg (top). Troops drilled in the streets of Clearwater and raised the Stars and Stripes daily in front of the Pinellas County Courthouse.
t was the 1st of January, 1942: Stalins Red Army recaptured Kaluga as the British Forces in North Africa pressed on for a final battle with Nazi General Erwin Rommel. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to coordinate strategies to counter the Axis worldwide.
In Pearl Harbor, battleships were still smoldering as Admiral Nimitz warned of possible Pacific Coast strikes by Japanese submarines. Soon an Axis sub sank a Brazilian ship off the coast of Virginia. And Emperor Hirohitos troops began the conquest of the Philippines.
As the reality of the American commitment to winning the war dawned in this new year, in every city, every citizen dedicated himself to this purpose, determined to defeat tyranny and defend his priceless freedom. America would not be caught off guard again.
Clearwater Mirrors the Nation
Clearwater residents were asked to cooperate in practice blackouts between 9 and 9:30 p.m. and to stay off the streets as war fever began. They remembered Pearl Harbor by increasing their purchases of Defense Savings Stamps and local sales surged to more than $150,000 per month.
Mayor George R. Seavy asked that stamps be sold at every business in Clearwater. Pinellas County became a leading county in War Bond and War Stamp purchases by May 1942. With Safety Harbor, Mayor Seavy also launched a Joint Salvage Campaign for the collection of old scrap metal, old rubber and rags, while Clearwaters Boy Scouts began calling on homes for waste collection. A Junior Salvage Army was formed by local schoolchildren to further aid the war effort.
Mail sent abroad was subject to censorship and post office policies were published in local papers.
Hotels Change Hands and Faces
The Army moved into the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in early 1942, removed the luxurious furnishings and painted it olive drab.
Rumors circulated that the U.S. Army would take over the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. These rumors proved true in early 1942 when the Army moved in. All luxurious furnishings were removed and the hotel repainted olive drab. Up to 3,000 soldiers and airmen would be housed there at any one time until the end of the war. Tents were erected on the golf course to house even more soldiers and Army Air Corps personnel.
The Fort Harrison, Gray Moss Inn, Dunedin Isles Hotel and literally every other hotel in the area served as supplemental housing for soldiers stationed at MacDill and Drew fields in Tampa. The Army took over the Pinellas County Master Airport on Tampa Bay and billeted troops there as well.
Army personnel drilled in the streets and raised the Stars and Stripes daily in front of the Pinellas County Courthouse. Thousands of soldiers, traveling by bus to save badly needed (and strictly rationed) gas, enjoyed time in the sun at Clearwaters beaches before shipping out for foreign shores and the dangers of combat.
Each morning, Clearwaters finest sons would meet at the bus station to travel to Camp Blanding for basic training. New soldiers also disembarked from trains at the Atlantic Coastline Railroad depot downtown, now known as Clearwater Station Square. For most, the first duty was marching across the street for a milkshake at the Dairy Store.
In the afternoons, downtown streets were filled with service-men on brief respites from their training, drilling and preparation. Eligible males might have been scarce elsewhere in the country, but on the weekends in Clearwater young ladies were rarely wanting for suitable companionship. Soon these young men were called for active duty away from their country, and with that call came a rush of weddings, as shown in the county clerks records.
The Fort Harrison, Gray Moss Inn, Dunedin Isles Hotel and literally every other hotel in the area served as supplemental housing for soldiers stationed at MacDill and Drew fields in Tampa.
Clearwaters American Red Cross chapter was making surgical dressings and clothing, and teaching First Aid. Clearwaters Little Theater players were invited to present programs at MacDill Field in Tampa and at the Maritime Training School in St. Petersburg. Blood Bank drives began at Morton F. Plant Hospital. National Defense Through Agriculture became the theme of the County Fair at the Largo Fairgrounds.
Clearwaters library felt the pressure of wartime as well and expanded its facilities to add a small museum in 1942. The demand for reading material was higher than ever. Special library cards were issued to the many servicemen and their families stationed in the area.
Clearwaters industry boomed as War Department orders poured in. And Clearwaters city government worked tirelessly to better coordinate local businesses in the national war effort.
Above: Coes Casino, which later became Trinity College, from which Billy Graham graduated.
Left: Military equipment on display on Cleveland Street.
As the war continued into 1943, the U.S. fought in the Solomon Islands and the Aleutians. The Red Army recovered lost territory near Stalingrad and the Allies scored important victories in North Africa.
Here at home, belt-tightening was the rule. Local law enforcement officials cracked down on contraband sugar, tires, gasoline, copper and liquor smuggled in from ships offshore. A rationing calendar was in effect, allowing each household three pounds of sugar and five pounds of coffee per month and each person three pairs of new shoes per year. Home canning of produce and fish was encouraged and local school cafeterias benefited from the fruits of their own gardens. New home appliances costing in excess of $5 could not be purchased.
Dim-out regulations in Clearwater to ensure no bright lights offered easy targets for any enemy planes, ships or subs maneuvering in the night became stricter than ever. Yet social life largely continued in style, with dinner dances at Carlouel, the Clearwater Yacht Club, the Everingham Pavilion at Clearwater Beach (where Pier 60 is situated today), the YWCA and the Clearwater Auditorium.
As noted in Michael Sanders Clearwater: A Pictorial History, Coes Casino, affiliated with the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, flourished illegally until 1949, and was a gathering place for such notables as actor Tyrone Power, the Duke of Windsor, Dan Topping (then owner of the New York Yankees), and names like Studebaker and Guggenheim. Later Coes Casino would become Trinity College, the Bible college from which evangelist Billy Graham graduated.
Everinghams Pavilion was a 1940s focal point for swimming and socializing.
New Year, New Strategies
As 1943 drew to a close, and after meetings in Tehran with Churchill and Stalin, President Roosevelt named General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Commander of the Anglo-American Forces and charged him with the task of opening a second front against Germany.
America marked the second anniversary of Pearl Harbor with the launching of the 52,000-ton battleship Wisconsin and the completion of its 150,000th warplane.
As Clearwaters third wartime Christmas was observed, churches were crowded with parishioners whose prayers were with the citys 900 men and women in the armed forces who would not be home for the holidays. Their sacrifices and those of the citizens who stayed behind stand as a testament to a city that helped to keep the flame of freedom alight.