I debated including this chapter in the book but ultimately decided against it for two reasons: 1) Scientology is always very actively recruiting down here so I was reluctant to send folks into its headquarters, and 2) I didn't want the church itself to take any offense (even though I've tried to keep my own opinions out of the writing). That said, I present it here for you.
What’s that huge building in the middle of Clearwater with the unusual bronze cross on top?
Inevitably, any discussion about the nature and composition of Clearwater must touch upon its long, complicated and often contentious relationship with the Church of Scientology. The Flag Building (sometimes referred to as the Super Powers Building) represents the spiritual headquarters of the church, the largest building in the city and ground zero in the ongoing power struggle between the two.
Science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard incorporated the first church of Scientology in Camden New Jersey in the 1950's, with the mission of reawakening human beings to their forgotten immortal natures as “thetan.” The organization quickly spread to other locations, and as early as the 1970’s began acquiring land in Clearwater.
Construction on the Flag Building began in 1998 and was completed fifteen years later. The building’s primary purpose is to deliver a training course called the Super Power Rundown, designed to enable Scientologists to fully utilize all 57 of their sense (what they refer to as “perceptics”).
The 127,000 square foot building (which includes a 15 story tower) has an assessed valued of $80M. It features 889 rooms as well as theaters for training, a bookstore, library and separate museums honoring the church’s elite Sea Org and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. A bridge connects it to the Scientology-owned Fort Harrison Hotel.
When the building opened its doors on November 17th, 2013, it did so in a ceremony attended by thousands of members including some high profile celebrities such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
Whatever your opinion is on the legitimacy of Scientology as a religion, it seems to have become a permanent feature of Clearwater, reminding the local sun worshipers that the star at the center of our own solar system is just one such celestial body available for their devotion.
What: The Flag Building
Where: 215 South Fort Harrison Avenue.
Cost: Free to view from outside, 10% of your income if you decide to become a regular
Pro Tip: Scientology in Clearwater is extremely active in recruitment, so unless you’re in the market for a new set of religious beliefs, you might want to view the building from the outside.