Whiskey as Heat at the old Clearwater Beach Hotel
Photos Courtesy of Mike Sanders
Without shifting a single grain of sand, the former Clearwater Beach Hotel at 500 Mandalay Avenue transitioned from a Gulf and Bay location to just a Gulf location. Developer L.B. Skinner was credited with this alteration. After his partner E.T. Roux of the Clearwater Beach Island Development Company built the first wooden bridge to Clearwater Beach Island in 1916, L.B. Skinner decided the time was right to exploit the clear water of Clearwater Beach Island. After all, guests were flocking to lumber magnate E.T. Roux's new Arts and Crafts Bungalow boarding house on Clearwater Beach claiming the clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico had curative powers. In 1920 you could rent a room at the hotel for $3 a day, meals included.
Visionary Skinner planned to change the barrier island into his "Isle of a Thousand Palms." The dredging commenced in earnest and in the end Skinner managed to double the width of Clearwater Beach Island from Mandalay Avenue north to Acacia and beyond, thus rearranging the old Clearwater Beach Hotel from a Gulf and Bay to just a Gulf location.
About this same time, a fire forced the evacuation of Southern College in Palm Harbor. With no place to go, alumnus E.T. Roux offered his recently completed boarding house as temporary quarters for the school. Temporary turned into three years and Florida Southern College eventually moved into its permanent quarters in Lakeland, Florida.
Even a visionary doesn't have a crystal ball. In 1929, America succumbed to the Great Depression, drowning Skinner's dream of the Isle of a Thousand Palms along with it.
Six years later, the economy experienced an upswing and construction resumed at the north end of Clearwater Beach Island at what is now called Carlouel.
Happy times were here again and business was booming at the Clearwater Beach Hotel. So brisk that in 1937 successful hotelier Goodman Kelleher convinced owner Roux to obtain a second mortgage on the hotel. With that money, Kelleher purchased lumber from the mortgagor and built a 38-room addition onto the hotel.
Having just survived the Great Depression, Kelleher frugally decided not to install a new heating system for the hotel but instead gave complaining guests a free bottle of whiskey to keep them warm. Kelleher went so far as to order labels for the whiskey bottles which stated: "For Florida Cold Wave."
Although Russian writer Anton Chekhov claimed in his short-story Three Sisters that "People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy," the winter guests of the Clearwater Beach Hotel did notice that they were cold. Finally, in 1940, Kelleher relented and installed a modern heating system. Eventually one of his bottles of "Florida Cold" made headlines and the rest is history.
But Kelleher's reputation had preceded him. A master promoter, Kelleher had previously been listed in "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" Cook's Column as the "Cook's Cook" because he was credited with cooking breakfast for his staff at his Majestic Hotel every morning for the last 20 years.
But alas, all good things must come to an end. Such was the fate of the Clearwater Beach Hotel. In 2005, loyal patrons began their final pilgrimage to the old gal before she closed her doors one last time Memorial Day weekend of 2005. Addition after addition, hurricane after hurricane, memory after memory, the proud Clearwater Beach Hotel had faithfully served her guests for the last 90 years.
Developer JMC Communities tore her down to make way for the approximately $140 million dollar Sandpearl Resort, a 253 room hotel on the Gulf of Mexico. In her memory, JMC Communities assembled a time capsule of Clearwater Beach Hotel memorabilia such as the royal blue and white dinner plates emblazoned with gold CBH insignia in the middle. The time capsule was then carefully lowered into place for some future generation to discover.
For those of us left behind, our memories will eventually no longer exist, just like the Clearwater Beach Hotel.
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