Historic Fort Harrison to Celebrate 94 Years of Community Service

The Fort Harrison, now the international religious retreat for the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, opened its doors to its first guests on December 1st, 1926. The facility has been in continuous use for events and guest accommodations for 94 years.

The Clearwater Sun at the time stated “Today all the help necessary to operate a hotel of this size had been secured and all were ready to accommodate any and all patrons tonight. All are experienced, most of them having served for many years with fashionable hotels in other places both in the United States and Europe.” This included Chef Leon Chartone, who had served as a Chef at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and the Royal Palace in Paris.

The development of the Fort Harrison was the bright idea of Ed A. Haley, a Clearwater realtor, developer and entrepreneurial businessman.

“Seeing that the only luxury hotel in the area was the Belleview Biltmore, Mr. Haley wanted to bring more well-heeled guests to Clearwater,” said Lisa Mansell, the Public Affairs Director for the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization. “Mr. Haley purchased the land, hired an architect from New York and went to work.”

“The Fort Harrison was originally to be only 8 stories,” said Ms. Mansell. “However, the architect sold Mr. Haley on the idea that a grand hotel needed to have a ballroom and a penthouse.”

The ballroom would go on to serve as the venue for charity events, luncheons, concerts and the dance studio for generations of young people who learned ballroom dancing overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Rolling Stones stayed in the penthouse at the Fort Harrison during their first US tour of the United States,” said Ms. Mansell. Other celebrity guests to the Fort Harrison over the years included former US President Gerald Ford, and Helen Keller. The Brooklyn Dodgers, the Cleveland Indians and the Philadelphia Phillies all stayed at the Fort Harrison during Spring Training.

“The Church is proud to be the caretaker of this part of Clearwater’s history,” said Ms. Mansell.

The Fort Harrison underwent a complete restoration and renovation in 2009 – an 11 month, million-man-hour project. All 267,000 square feet of the facility were stripped down to bare beams and rebuilt from the inside out.

Utilizing the craftsmanship of more than 350 local tradespeople, the restoration included the Grand Lobby, from the original wrought-iron balustrades, the gold-leafing of the lobby’s Corinthian columns and the reconstruction of the lobby’s checkerboard floor.

Though currently not open for tours, for those curious to see how the Fort Harrison has withstood the test of time, a virtual tour is available on line at www.scientology.org/churches.

Flag (the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization) is a religious retreat located in Clearwater, Florida. The title “Flag” follows from the fact that from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, the highest ecclesiastical organizations were located at sea. The 330-foot motor vessel Apollo served as L. Ron Hubbard’s home. Accordingly, it was then the most senior Scientology Church. It was known as the “Flagship” of the flotilla and called “Flag” for short. In 1975, the Flag Service Organization established itself in Clearwater. To learn more about Scientology, please go to www.scientology.org.