'Davy Crockett's Hotel' on the Ballot

Times Staff Writer

Fess Parker, star of the old "Davy Crockett" and "Daniel Boone" weekly TV shows, never wrestled with a pretend adversary as strong as the real one he's been fighting in Santa Barbara for nearly nine years.

Parker's foe? The System. "And I had a certain amount of bad luck in terms of timing," he said.

This all has to do with Parker's plan to develop a $50-million, 360-room hotel and convention center on a 14-acre site he owns along the ocean on East Cabrillo Boulevard.

"There's actually a 12-year history of the effort, which includes previous applicants," he explained. "The site has been part of the general plan as a hotel/conference center since 1964."

Parker, a 27-year resident of Santa Barbara, gave his first presentation to the city in 1978. "Then the city referred the matter to the Coastal Commission, which took three years to approve it," he said. "Now we hold a building permit but use of it has been delayed by dispute. The city was challenged on its procedures (in approving it) by a group who gathered signatures and carried the issue to the state Supreme Court." The court ruled that voters should endorse or reject the project in a special election, which was originally scheduled on Jan. 22, then reset for March 12.

Parker has been involved in the development of mobile home parks and housing since the early '70s. "And I changed the zoning for 1,200 acres in Santa Clara, which I sold to Marriott in 1972 for its Great America (amusement park)," he said.

So, even if voters reject the Santa Barbara hotel idea, he will not lose his interest in real estate development. In fact, he would probably still develop the controversial site himself. "The property would revert to M-1, light industrial, and it is fortuitously located for ocean-oriented industries," he said, "so it could be turned into a boat yard, boat sales or maybe a fish-processing plant."

And what about his acting? "I'm asked occasionally to consider scripts, and I would like to continue acting, but so far, the right opportunity and my availability have not coincided," he said.

Parker, 59, finished his sixth year on the "Daniel Boone" show in 1970. "So I'm definitely between pictures," he said with a laugh.

A "Zsa Zsa Gabor Look-Alike Contest" is planned on Feb. 18 at a private reception celebrating "the arrival of the first imported Hungarian salami to the United States in three generations," at the 60-year-old Variety Arts Center, where the show has been going on despite an ongoing, $1-million renovation project financed largely by the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency.

"We just finished Phase 1 of the refurbishing," Milt Larsen, president of the 3,000-member Society for the Preservation of Variety Arts (the nonprofit group that operates the center in downtown Los Angeles), said. "We put in air conditioning, which the building never had before, and new electrical and plumbing (systems)."

Before Christmas, 699 new, more plush and spacious seats were installed in the main theater, which was scaled down from 1,128 seats; the Roof Garden, where the salami reception and Zsa Zsa contest are scheduled, got new upholstering and carpeting, and the outside of the building was completely repainted and decorated with awnings and banners.

"Now we're building a new theater for our film archives," Larsen went on. "We have one of the largest collections of vintage films on variety arts." The new theater will include a screening room for about 90 people, archive storage and two meeting rooms.

Larsen said his group has been trying for seven years to restore the five-story Italian Renaissance building (which has a couple of theaters that are being used for theater rentals and movie locations, a restaurant, the Ed Wynn Comedy Lounge, the Roof Garden, and several libraries) at 940 S. Figueroa St., "but until the city got behind us, we didn't feel that we could do what we wanted because people were talking about tearing down the building and making a parking lot."

Since the redevelopment agency approved an 11th-hour, $1.7-million bail-out package in November to refinance the center's mortgage debt and provide cash needed to catch up on unpaid withholding taxes, the building--a city and national historical landmark--"has gotten a new breath of fresh air," Larsen added, "and now the Variety Arts Center will be the only thing left on the block (when the area undergoes redevelopment), but that's way off in the future yet."

"A chain of large bathtubs filled with hot water and stretching across the desert" is how the promoters of Two Bunch Palms Resort/Spa in Desert Hot Springs describe the half-acre lakes they intend to build on their 105-acre property, about 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The hourglass-shaped prototype has been completed and is already irrigating a half-mile, tamarisk-tree windbreak. At least four lakes, which will be kept the same 80 degrees Fahrenheit, are planned for use in greenhouse and possible hydroponics operations.

Two Bunch Palms has been a resort at least since the 1920s, when solid rock bungalows with stained glass windows were built around the natural, hot mineral waters, contained in rock pools. Its gambling casino was also supposed to have been a draw to movie moguls and the Mafia.

The property was purchased in 1978 by Transam Ltd., headed by Robert Beaumont, and has since undergone extensive renovations. The 39 of 41 rentable guest units--which have access to private nude sunbathing areas, a barbecue pit, a lounge and dining room (which was formerly the casino), tennis courts, exercise pool, saunas and facilities for facials and massages--rent, with a two-night minimum, from $80 to $265 a night.

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