The Crystal Ballroom - 1952.
he late 1940s and into the 1950s marked a period of great expansion for the West Coast of Florida, including Clearwater. In response to the post-war development boom, U.S. Highway 19 leading into Clearwater from the north was widened, much of it into four lanes, and in 1954 the Sunshine Skyway was constructed, an engineering marvel of a bridge creating another link to the city from the outside world.
The Fort Harrison was now the seasonal home to the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team who quartered there during spring training. In those days before athletes began commanding 7-digit salaries players stayed two to a room, walked to practice every day from the hotel to the ball field and were expected to be back before evening curfew.
Enforcing a curfew on the sometimes rowdy ball players was not easy, but the Phillies hard-suffering coach hit upon a novel idea. Handing a half-dozen baseballs to the night elevator operator, the coach told him he could have the signature of any player who came in after 1 a.m. Thrilled, the elevator man went to work and when he finished his shift the next morning, he proudly showed the coach his haul the signatures of all the ball players who had stayed out past curfew.
You could not have asked for anything better. The service was excellent the food was excellent. The hotel provided [transportation] service to the beach and back, the hotel was centrally located... We had a room on the beach side and there were no big buildings around so the view was beautiful.
But the decade brought more immediate changes to the Fort Harrison itself. In 1953, the Jack Tar Corporation purchased the property from the R.E. Olds Estate for $500,000. In succeeding years, the hotel underwent extensive renovations, alterations and modernizations. By 1955, air conditioning was available in all rooms and the mezzanine had been expanded over the street level frontage to create a sleek new two-story facade. A new 1,500-seat auditorium and 85 new guest rooms had been added to the rear wing of the existing building.
By the end of the decade, a thoroughly modernized Fort Harrison moved forward into the next decade with a facelift and even a new name.
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