The historic Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, FL celebrates 84 years in the heart of downtown. Now home to the Church of Scientology, the Fort Harrison is available for tours and community events.
Online PR News – 15-February-2011 – – CLEARWATER: In celebration of the 84th Anniversary of the Fort Harrison in downtown Clearwater, the Church of Scientology, Flag Service Organization is welcoming guests to tour the property and to find out about the origins of Scientology and the biography of its Founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
In Clearwater, the Fort Harrison Hotel and the Church of Scientology are considered by many to be synonymous. But as visitors soon see, though similar in purpose, these two entities have histories of their own.
1926, Florida’s land boom had gone bust, and economic hardship was on the horizon for the 28,000 residents of Pinellas County. But one resident, Clearwater’s Ed Haley disagreed that the sparkle had gone out of Clearwater. At the beginning of 1927, he just finished completion on the 11-story Fort Harrison Hotel, the self-proclaimed “Jewel of the Gulf Coast.” Offering fine dining, well-appointed guest rooms, a Turkish Bath and Saunas, as well as it’s own orchestra performing nightly in the 10th floor Crystal Ballroom, the Fort Harrison was soon the center of Clearwater’s social scene.
Haley felt that Clearwater deserved the very best, and in his estimation, this is just what the Fort Harrison represented. Moving on to other ventures, Haley sold the Fort Harrison to R.E. Olds (creator of the Oldsmobile and founder of Oldsmar), in the 1930’s. The Fort Harrison’s fortune was on the rise and by 1954, under the ownership of the Jack Tar Corporation, the Fort Harrison was readied for a full modernization of the building.
Also in that year, a group of people in Los Angeles was readying the start of the first major religious movement of the 20th century, the Church of Scientology. Though the religious philosophy of Scientology was discovered and founded by Hubbard, it was a group of his students who took this a step further, incorporating the Church of Scientology in 1954.
“The goal of Scientology is making the individual capable of living a better life in his own estimation and with his fellows and the playing of a better game,” stated Hubbard in 1956.
And this goal proved to be very popular. By the mid 1970’s, the Church of Scientology had expanded to 118 churches and missions in 20 countries, including South Africa, Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom.
Back in Clearwater, however, it was not going as well for the Fort Harrison. As shops left downtown to occupy slick, modern spaces in the new Sunshine Mall and then Clearwater Mall, so too declined the popularity of the once-glamorous Fort Harrison Hotel.
So it was in 1975 that the rapidly expanding Church of Scientology came to Clearwater, looking for an international headquarters.
Staff members found a perfect location in the Fort Harrison. As the hotel was run down and only open during the winter months, its owners were ready to lock the doors and walk away.
The Church of Scientology purchased both the Fort Harrison and the Bank of Clearwater Building in that year and started to deliver ministerial counseling and training services to its growing base of parishioners.
In April of 2008, the Church of Scientology undertook detailed renovations to restore the aging facility to its former grandeur and beyond.
Completed in 2009, the this renovation began when the Fort Harrison was stripped virtually bare and rebuilt from its core. This included installation of new state-of-the-art systems – plumbing, electrical and central air and heating – as well as fully modernized professional kitchens to service the retreat’s three restaurants. Particular care was taken to make the work and the final product environmentally friendly. This included recycled “blue jean” insulation, high efficiency water systems to reduce consumption and energy- efficient lighting, electrical and air conditioning.
Despite all the modernization, the Fort Harrison still bears its hallmark historical touches, including the replication of the lobby’s original black wrought iron work and gold leafed moldings, resurfacing of the entire exterior as well as restoring architectural detail that had been lost in the building’s “modernization” in the 1950’s.
The Fort Harrison is the international spiritual retreat of the Church of Scientology where parishioners come from all over the world to partake of the Church’s religious services. However, community groups and charitable organizations are invited to use the magnificent Crystal Ballroom, the grand auditorium and splendid gardens for their charity functions.
Since the Fort Harrison’s grand re-opening in March of 2009, groups such as the North Greenwood Community Coalition, Jazztorians, the Sunscreen Film Festival and the Clearwater Downtown Partnership have utilized the facility for their fundraisers.
For more information and for scheduling tours and booking private and community events, contact Lisa Mansell at (727) 467-6860.