El Encanto Hotel
Sue De Lapa

MARCH OPENING: The Miramar remains a wreck, Fess Parker’s waterfront hotel is still a black hole, La Entrada’s future is a question mark. But the fourth major hotel project, El Encanto, is slated to reopen in March 2013.

The classic Riviera hilltop hotel is sporting a new look and 92 bungalows. After the Orient-Express people bought it for a reported $26 million in 2004, it closed in 2006 for renovation.

Barney Brantingham

After a long period of redesign and getting permits, while other projects languished for lack of financing, Orient-Express got a $45-million construction loan infusion last year, and the dirt really began to fly.

But the news isn’t good at what used to be Bill Levy’s La Entrada hotel and mixed-use project at the foot of State Street. The city okayed it in the early 1990s over vocal opposition to its size. Now the latest owner wants major changes to the design and timing of the 119 hotel rooms, nine time-share condos, parking, restaurants, and shops.

The looming question: Does the new plan conform to what’s been approved, or must the developer go back to square one?

CLARK’S MUSEUM: The late Huguette Clark’s Santa Barbara hilltop property is now officially valued at $84.5 million, but whether it’ll ever become an art museum remains in question. For one thing, Clark’s distant relatives have sued to toss out her will providing for the museum, claiming undue influence by her attorney and others, reports Bill Dedman, investigative reporter for NBCNews.Com. Question: Why in the world didn’t she donate the East Cabrillo Boulevard property and her paintings while she was still alive? She died last year at 104.

Now there’s a court fight. Former mayor Sheila Lodge tells me that she’s a strong supporter of the museum, which would be “a wonderful community asset.”

But it’s actually the second will Clark signed within six weeks back in 2005. The first leaves the bulk of her far-flung $306.5-million estate to descendants from Clark’s first marriage. The second deliberately cuts them out but provides for the museum and leaves large gifts for various people, including her controversial attorney.

If a New York judge throws out the second will and the East Coast relatives win, aren’t they more likely to split the $306.5-million estate ​— ​minus her other bequests ​— ​than bestow a museum on faraway Santa Barbara?

A jury trial over her fortune won’t happen until next year at the earliest, according to a judge, Dedman said. Clark’s East Cabrillo Boulevard mansion and associated oceanfront property (earlier estimates of its value were as high as $100 million) are just part of her far-flung estate, whose total value could grow if officials “rake back” $44 million in highly questionable gifts she made in her later years.

New York officials have bounced the attorney as executor, and law enforcement has opened a criminal case against him and others. No charges have been filed, however, Dedman reports. For his full story, see openchannel.nbcnews.com.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: Who dunnit? In Ensemble Theatre Company’s current production of Dostoyevsky’s classic novel (vastly pared down from the book most of us avoided reading in our youth), we witness Raskolnikov’s journey to the horrible truth. Brian Patrick Monahan is superb as the tortured young student. (Through Oct.t 21.)

THEATER OF THE ABSURD: Speaking of tortured theater, last week’s presidential debate had plenty of it, along with crimes against the truth and punishment for viewers expecting facts. The fiasco was followed by a blizzard of demands that Romney retract his roller-coaster twists of the truth and tilt-a-whirl spins. Two suggestions for the next debate: (1) Romney, keep a fact-checker at your elbow. (2) Obama, lose the hangdog body language and talk back like a president.

PERPETUAL WAR: TV talker Rachel Maddow, flogging her new book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, wondered before an SRO Arlington audience Sunday how the U.S. can stop its cycle of “perpetual war.” She found it odd that with tens of thousands of American troops in Afghanistan, “Mitt Romney has no position” on the war. Although a liberal, she admires former Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, who she said emphasized the importance of Social Security and unions, not currently GOP talking points.

SHOOL WORK: Observes Des O’Neill, former Santa Barbara City College trustee, “I really shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, to see, on the cyclone fence at the Portesuello/Modoc intersection, a La Cumbre Junior High School banner announcing “Walk to Shool.”


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