By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Guests dab their eyes as they make their last visits to Clearwater Beach Hotel, closing after this weekend.
Born as a cottage retreat during World War I, the Clearwater Beach Hotel blossomed into the city's most celebrated beach getaway, an upscale oasis for high society.
Now after nearly 90 years, the piece of Old Florida is going away, making room for a new form of luxury.
The 137-room hotel will close for the last time on Memorial Day, a casualty of newer and bigger needs. A $140-million megadevelopment is planned in its place, with high-priced condominiums and four-star hotel rooms.
The old hotel isn't historic - the building visitors see is circa 1987 - but stories harken back to an older time, to the birth of the city.
The hotel was one of the first things to reach the barrier island, when builders floated lumber across Clearwater Harbor.
"It was built with the optimism of a bright tourist future for Clearwater," said Michael Sanders, a local historian.
Around the hotel Wednesday, with its gingerbread roof and expansive vistas of the Gulf of Mexico, workers continued to prepare for the final checkout. Guests who have known the Mandalay Avenue accommodations for decades cried as they left for the last time.
"There have been some tears shed. There have been some wet eyes," said Neil Mayhew, the general manager of the hotel and a 30-year employee. "So many people from the community have a connection with this hotel."
To mark that bond, the hotel is throwing four final dinners for guests and area residents Saturday and Sunday, Mayhew said.
Rooms in the hotel for its final night have been sold out for weeks.