Restoring the historic value of a grand hotel
September 1, 2009
Constructed in the 1920s, the stone architecture for the Fort Harrison Hotel has through the years served as a symbol for the Clearwater, FL, area. And because of the building’s historic significance, any type of restoration work needed to fit the hotel’s five-star setting, while also utilizing materials and installation methods that would convey the original design intent.
The Fort Harrison Hotel originally opened in 1926 as the New Fort Harrison Hotel. It was often considered one of Clearwater’s most lavish hotels, serving as a focal point for the community during tougher times, such as the Great Depression and World War II.
After falling into a less than optimal state, it was purchased by the Church of Scientology in the 1970s, and the group continues to operate the hotel today. “They’re very diligent stewards of the facility and keep it in shape,” said Barbara Mullenex of OPX Architects in Washington, DC, which served as the architect for the renovation project. “They had a desire to restore it to a five-star quality hotel. As such, we replaced in time a lot of the stone.”
The most recent renovation included the public balcony and walkway areas, pool copings, guest bathroom vanities and shower spaces as well as new flooring in the guest rooms and four levels of the lobby. The renovation involved some methods that would restore the original architectural intent of the structure.
“You’re working with an historic context - taking old photographs and trying to recreate them,” said Mullenex. “We did some demolition to see what was under the layers and replicated that.”
For the balcony and walkway areas - as well as stair treads and pool coping - a Peruvian travertine, supplied by Andean Stone Co. of Miami, FL, was selected. Two varieties of travertine were selected - Mezzo, a cream color that was used for the main field tile, along with a rust/gold-colored travertine as a border.
The pavers and tiles for the balcony and walkway areas measure 16 x 16 inches with a 1-inch thickness, while the tiles for the pool copings were also done in a 16- x 16-inch size, but with a 3/8-inch thickness. All of this stonework features a brushed finish. Meanwhile, the stair treads measure 80 x 20 inches.
“We had great success with the travertine from Peru,” said Chuck Fazio, who worked on the project for Nova Hotel Renovation & Construction in Clearwater, FL, the installer for the job. “It was a sandpaper installation, and we used a thin-set acrylic adhesive to help ensure the adhesion.
“The biggest challenge was selecting the colors and getting them uniform. “The tiler has to sort them to get the right range of colors. You don’t want a checkerboard pattern in certain areas, unless it’s consistent throughout.”
In the guest rooms, the primary stone material is Crema Marfil marble, which was used for the vanity tops as well as bathroom floor and wall tiles. “Basically, all of the bathroom walls are done in Crema Marfil,” said Fazio, adding that many of the presidential suites utilize about 10 different marbles.
Fazio explained that some concerns had come in securing the proper stone for the different areas. “There’s a lot available, but sometimes you have to search and special order,” he said. [The stone] is not hard to get, but it’s not always in stock. The advantage in using [Andean Stone Co. for the Peruvian travertine on the exterior] was once we put in an order, they were able to provide it right away.”
Fabrication took 10 weeks, while the installation took close to three months - with as many as 40 to 45 installers on site at once. Typically, though, there were 10 to 12 workers present on average. “The project took a lot of coordinating between the field, supervision and stone fabrication,” said Fazio.
Additionally, Mullenex added that since the building was an older structure, the surfaces were not level and squared. “It took quality craftsmanship,” she said.
Members of OPX were on site during the entire installation, and the project was completed in January 2009. “The hotel has been restored to its grandeur,” said Mullenex. “While the hotel is only open for Scientology guests, the public spaces are open to everyone - for instance the ballroom on the top floor can be rented out. The rooftop of the hotel is prominent. It’s on the skyline of Clearwater. It’s such a symbol to the area - this project has been a community event. It’s a beautiful project, one that you don’t get to do very often.”
Sidebar: Fort Harrison Hotel renovationClearwater, FL
Architect: OPX Architects, Washington, DC
Stone Supplier: Andean Stone Co., Miami, FL (Peruvian travertine)
Stone Installer: Nova Hotel Renovation & Construction, Clearwater, FL