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Freedom Magazine, published by the Church of Scientology Clearwater's Early Boom Years 1920-1927

Clearwater's Waterfront, ca 1920's The early Florida real estate boom peaked in 1925. It soon became obvious that both the increasing population and influx of tourists would necessitate a "great big commercial hotel..."
S. Fort Harrison Ave, ca 1926
The Fort Harrison Hotel, ca. 1926
The Fort Harrison Hotel was completed at the end of 1926, bringing to downtown Clearwater a social and cultural focal point for the community  
At the end of the First World War, Americans were ready for a change. Post-war production demands had made the economy sound, employment plentiful and credit easy to obtain. Millions of people were suddenly purchasing cars, radios and other modern conveniences, and enthusiastic about the promise of a new prosperity.

Automobiles had become common, as had travel in Florida. The state's population and per capita wealth increased rapidly. At the start of 1921, the future looked especially bright for the residents of Clearwater. The Florida real estate boom was underway and speculators from throughout the United States arrived in the hope of striking it rich. Some did, many did not, but many stayed on — and the population continued to grow.

For a brief time, it appeared the boom would slow, due to one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the Gulf Coast: the Hurricane of '21. The storm initially touched down in Tarpon Springs, battering nearby Clearwater with 110 mile-an-hour winds and slamming the shoreline with ten-foot tides. The winds cut the channel known since as Hurricane Pass, nearly slicing Clearwater Island in two.

One disaster and the threat of future hurricanes, however, could not deter people from coming to Clearwater or to other parts of the state. The Florida real estate boom gained momentum, reaching its peak in 1925. Clearwater, like St. Petersburg and other coastal regions of Florida, was overrun with developers and real estate speculators. As more and more people migrated to the city, it soon became obvious that both the city's infrastructure and housing supply were inadequate to keep up with the population.

It was during this time that the friends of wealthy realtor and entrepreneur Ed Haley approached him with the idea of building a luxury hotel in the heart of downtown. As a newspaper article of the time later reported:

"But there is one thing that Ed Haley did for Clearwater that should not go unmentioned: he gambled more than one million dollars of his own money on his town. During the boom, when living accommodations were at a premium, some of his friends took him in a corner and said, 'Listen, the city's hotels are swamped. What we need is a great big commercial hotel.'

"'All right,' said Ed Haley. So he went out and gathered on his available funds, arranged with a hotel financing company for a loan of additional [funds] and built the Fort Harrison. It was ahead of its time but is now coming into its own and will stand as a monument to a citizen's enterprise."

The hotel was completed at the end of 1926, and celebrated its grand opening by welcoming New Year 1927 in the Rooftop Restaurant with a party attended by 500 people. Prosperity had come to stay.

But as more and more tourists descended upon Clearwater, another problem developed. In order to get to the beach, visitors and residents alike had to cross the wooden Old Rickety Bridge, which had not fared well under the hot Florida sun or in the salt spray of the inter-costal waterway. Drivers crossing the bridge were threatened by a cacophony of rattles and pops as the planks that made up the wobbly structure shook and shifted under the weight of their cars.

The solution was the beautiful Memorial Causeway Bridge. Built in 1927 at a cost of one million dollars, the Causeway was dedicated to the heroes of World War I. It gained state-wide publicity for Clearwater and several thousand people attended its dedication. The new bridge served Clearwater well for the next 30 years, when it was bypassed by a new span.

Downtown was humming. It was, at times, almost impossible to get a parking space. But with so much to see and do, people were not deterred. They bought their bread from the Clearwater Bakery, went to the White Way Drug store for a soda or a cigar, were served milk shakes by a curb-hop at Scranton's Arcade and watched movies at the Ritz or Royalty theaters.

Downtown Clearwater was punctuated with gradual bursts of growth over the next 70 years, and today is once again on the upswing. Residential units currently under construction are selling fast. A Publics Supermarket, Starbucks Coffee Shop and other stores have opened and are catering to a new generation of people looking for a traditional downtown experience.

Today, visitors to downtown can glimpse not only the ghost of Clearwater's past, but, like the first boom years, the renewed promise of a very bright future.

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