The original Fort Harrison was built circa 1835 not as a garrison of defense but as a recuperation center for soldiers of the Seminole Wars. It stood on the highest point of the bluff overlooking Clear Water Harbor. In 1912 the area became the site of Harbor Oaks, the first modern subdivision in Clearwater. Developed by New York realtors, Dean and Donald Alvord, the neighborhood featured landscaping, sewers, street lamps, curbed roads and land use controls that were unusual for the era.
The new community's boundaries were Druid Road, South Ft. Harrison Avenue, Lotus Path and the harbor. Architectural styles of the homes in Harbor Oaks were numerous - Queen Anne, Greek and Mediterranean Revival, Dutch Colonial, Mission, Prairie School, Tudor Revival and French Country. The eclectic collection gave the unique neighborhood charm and elegance.
Advertised as "The Pearl of the Pinellas Peninsula", in 1919 an ad pictured homes for rent in the prestigious community to encourage Snow Birds to come and enjoy the warmth of Florida. "Complete Furnished Winter Houses on the Gulf - Golf, Swimming Pool, Casino - Harbor Oaks - Clearwater, Florida - Dean and Donald Alvord".
Many famous and influential men purchased residences on the shady streets lined with towering oak trees. Charles Ebbetts, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wintered at 301 Druid Road. James Studebaker, of the famous automobile family, had a house at 415 Magnolia Drive. William Harrison, developer of radon for medical therapy, resided at 403 Magnolia Drive. Dean Alvord built a stunning Mediterranean style mansion terraced to the bay at 802 Druid Road. Donald Alvord's palatial home at 205 Magnolia Drive over looked the Intracoastal Waterway.
Dean Alvord sold his estate to Robert S. Brown, Detroit industrialist, and constructed another waterfront home one mile south of the Belleview Hotel. The site became the Eagles Nest Japanese Gardens one of Florida's foremost tourist attractions. Many old time residents recall leisurely meandering through the intricately landscaped gardens during the 1930s.
Prominent Clearwater citizen, Taver Bayly, came from Key West with his parents in 1890. Mr. Bayly joined People's Bank (later named First National) in 1912 as a teller and became president. He retired in 1960. Bayly served on the boards of the YMCA, Morton Plant Hospital, Clearwater Yacht Club and the Chamber of Commerce. Ann Cornett, Bayly's daughter, recalled the family home on Jasmine Way was built in 1913 by John Phillipoff. Mrs. Cornett's daughter and her family presently reside in the house.
Donald Roebling, great-grandson of the Brooklyn Bridge builder, moved to Clearwater in 1929 and was the city's multi-millionaire celebrity. Mr. Roebling was an inventor who created the alligator tank, an amphibious landing vehicle, used by Marines in World War II. The classic English Tudor manor on Orange Street, built by Phillipoff, was massive and so was its owner. The Capitol Theatre on Cleveland Street combined two seats to make one large enough for the nearly 400 lb. Roebling. The house remains intact, but the grounds have been subdivided into a gated community, Spottis Woode.
Morton F. Plant, son of railroad baron Henry B. Plant, was instrumental in the founding of the hospital just south of Harbor Oaks. Mr. Plant's son, Henry Plant II, was seriously injured in an automobile accident in 1912. No medical facility was available to offer proper care. Plant realized the need for a hospital and responded to a plea from the ladies of the community. He offered to donate $100,000 if the city could raise $20,000.
On January 1, 1916, Morton F. Plant Endowed Hospital with 20 beds and 5 bassinets opened its doors. Visitors and patients were delighted with the building and its spectacular view of the harbor and the islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Henry B. Plant's Belleview Hotel was visible to the south.
Through the efforts of homeowners, the Harbor Oaks Residential District, 1914-1937, was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The district consists of 109 buildings - 87 are of historic interest. The neighborhood, which prospered during the Florida boom in the 1920s, remains one of the finest residential areas in Clearwater.
Choose a spring day when gardens are in bloom and the westerly breeze is blowing off the waterway. Enjoy the diverse architectural styles while strolling under the century old oaks. This is Harbor Oaks where history lives.
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