The Landmark Fort Harrison Fully Restored
More than 6,000 Scientologists from over 50 nations filled the streets and sidewalks at the 200 block of Fort Harrison Avenue on March 14, 2009, as Chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Center, Mr. David Miscavige, officiated at the ribbon cutting of the Clearwater landmark—the new Fort Harrison .
"Her bones were good, her breeding impeccable and her choice of residence couldn't have been more fitting: Clearwater, Florida," began Mr. Miscavige as he addressed the crowd. "When she originally opened in 1926, they called her 'the aristocrat of southern Florida hotels' and described her as a 'picturesque edifice' known all up and down the coast, as the toast of this city and an ever-bustling hub of wedding receptions, fashion shows, bridge teas and Rotary Club functions.
"She additionally saw no inconsiderable parade of luminaries. In the '60s and '70s the Phillies used to stay here during spring training and Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Buddy Rich all performed in our ballroom."
Mr. Miscavige's concluding remarks expressed both the spirit and significance of the occasion:
"The bottom line is the same bottom line for the last 80-plus years: this Fort Harrison is and will always remain a landmark and home for all of Clearwater."
And with that, he cut the 2,000-foot-long red ribbon and so ushered in a new beginning for the "Grand Dame of the West Gulf Coast."
A Monumental Restoration Project
The grand opening of the new Fort Harrison religious retreat was the culmination of an 11-month, million-man-hour restoration. All 267,000 square feet of the 83-year-old structure were stripped down to bare beams and rebuilt from the inside out.
The 21st-century infrastructure eased into her 1920s framework, with every one of the 200 guest rooms rebuilt from floor to ceiling and energy-efficient, low-emission electrical and mechanical systems throughout.
More than 350 local tradespeople worked on the project, ultimately laying 100,000 square feet of carpet, installing 300,000 feet of plumbing and stringing a full 100 miles of electrical wire.
Restoration of the building's hallmark features began in the elegant Grand Lobby, from the original wrought-iron and brass balustrades to the signature checkerboard marble floor and gold-leafed Corinthian columns. And high atop the Fort Harrison, the legendary Crystal Ballroom also underwent complete restoration to well beyond its original beauty.
The Fort Harrison has served as a hub for this community since the 1920s and continues to do so today. In addition to the Scientologists who avail themselves of the religious retreat's accommodations, restaurants and amenities while in Clearwater for religious services, the community at large also enjoys the Fort Harrison. Hundreds from across Tampa Bay gather for Open House brunches and community events, such as the Sunscreen Film Festival “Broadway and Beyond” concert, Harlem Nights Jazz Festival and other benefits for the arts. Couple that with the dozen or more interested people who simply walk in every day for a tour—and it is clear the Fort Harrison is, as it has always been, a home for Clearwater.