Historic Hotel Celebrates its Place in America's History
The Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, owned by the Church of Scientology, honors the role the hotel played in World War II
September 22, 2010 (Newswire.com) - CLEARWATER: The Fort Harrison, a former luxury resort hotel, celebrates its 83 years in operation with weekly open houses on Sundays from 11:30 - 2:30. The facility, now owned and operated as a religious retreat by the Church of Scientology, has a long history of service to the community.
Tours are being conducted of the building, with historic highlights included to give visitors an idea of the history and heritage of Clearwater.
"Part of the Fort Harrison's history that I am particularly proud of is the role that the Fort Harrison played in World War II," said the Church's Community Affairs Director Lisa Mansell.
Even before America entered the war, the Fort Harrison was a collection point for "Bundles for Britain" - a charity that collected food and clothing for those ravaged by the Battle of Britain. The hotel later hosted fundraisers for the American Red Cross and held bandage making parties.
But in 1943, the War hit closer to home. As did all of the large hotels in Pinellas County, the Fort Harrison contracted with Uncle Sam to use its hotel rooms as temporary barracks for soldiers training for the war in the Pacific.
Out went the luxurious bedding, delicate lamps and artwork. In came hundreds of bunks in olive drab.
Soldiers slept six to a room and though cramped, they wrote letters home bragging about how they had landed in the lap of luxury.
One World War II veteran, who later came back to see the Fort Harrison, described how one morning in a Army Camp in St. Petersburg, he and his company were ordered to pack up their tents and load into the Army bus that was going to take them to their new quarters.
Not knowing what to expect, they were pretty shocked when the bus pulled up in front of the Fort Harrison.
The Fort Harrison and the Grey Moss Inn (located directly across the street), housed the 588th Army Airborne Squadron and the local Military Police.
Clearwater's citizens took the new resident's in stride and seemed happy to have the opportunity to support the troops.
The Clearwater Sun ran stories of dances being held for soldiers, society matrons hosting officer's wives for tea, cartoons urging people to buy war bonds and reminders for people to send lots of letters to "the boys" in the service. Merchants stayed open late to accommodate the soldiers, who were on duty until 6pm.
Guest columnists from the 588th wrote for the Clearwater Sun, entertaining the general public with the exploits of their fellows. One column explained the shock that a private - the dishwasher at the Fort Harrison - had when he fell asleep under the sink, only to awake and find that he was trapped by piles and piles of dirty dishes and pans. Another column warned soldiers in the Squadron band not to be caught practicing on the roof of the hotel.
Though the olive drab is long gone, visitors can get a glimpse of what the soldiers might have encountered when they first walked through the doors to move into their new quarters.
"What is also interesting," says Mansell, "is at the same time this was happening here in Clearwater, L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, was just accepting a commission as a US Naval Officer at Portland's Albina Shipyards. The Second World War touched everyone."
Hubbard was put in command of a submarine chaser, the USS PC 815. As a licensed Master Mariner, his skills and experience were put to the test over a 68-hour period in May of 1943, when two Japanese submarines were discovered and sunk.
"It is connections like this that encouraged us to show a short film that hits the highlights of the life of Mr. Hubbard as a part of the weekly tours," said Mansell. Guests are encouraged to explore the hotel, learn its history, and ask questions.
For more information about Sundays at the Fort Harrison, or to book a tour, please contact the Public Affairs Office of the Church of Scientology at (727) 467-6860.