The doors of the El Encanto luxury hotel reopened to guests Monday after more than six years of being closed for extensive renovations.
Purchased in 2004 by Orient-Express, the El Encanto at 1900 Lasuen Road in Santa Barbara has been closed since June 2006 to undergo restoration to recapture the romance and glamour that once made the property’s seven hilltop acres of gardens a favorite getaway for Hollywood’s elite.
The hotel, which includes 92 California-styled bungalow rooms and sweeping ocean views, hummed with activity Monday as staff prepared to welcome their first 14 guests, who had booked reservations as early as last fall.
New York-based Orient-Express, which owns 46 luxury hotels throughout the world, bought the property in 2004 for $26 million, after then-owner Eric Friden’s death from a polo accident the year before.
The new owner said it would invest $10 million in the project, but delayed renovations until late 2011 to secure financing.
Orient Express spent about $134 million total on the purchase and renovation, a feat evident when taking a tour of the five-star resort that has previously boasted guests such as actors Clark Gable and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Renovations have breathed new life into the hotel, which was torn down completely and rebuilt to closely resemble its original design – at least on the outside.
“The interiors are completely different,” said Laura McIver, El Encanto general manager. “The main building footprint is the same.”
The extravagantly decorated facilities make it hard to believe that the property was originally developed in 1913 as rental cottages for nearby Santa Barbara State College, which eventually became UC Santa Barbara. The property was rebuilt in 1917 as the El Encanto Hotel.
Orient Express has turned the 62-bungalow resort into 92 by adding an Upper Mission Village in a corner of the property, where older, non-residence buildings were torn down.
Guests will be greeted with an outdoor swimming pool, boutique spa, a window-lined ballroom with private terrace, signature restaurant featuring California coastal cuisine and a Santa Barbara dedicated wine list, three meeting rooms with panoramic ocean views, and an array of outdoor event venues.
A fitness center also has been built in the hillside directly beneath the outdoor pool, and a small outdoor waterfall has been restored.
McIver said construction workers went to great lengths to recreate the hotel’s famous lily pond and brick arbor, where “many, many weddings” have taken place.
Members of the public are welcome to frequent the spa’s seven treatment rooms and the dining area.
The increase in offered services has added 140 employees to El Encanto’s payroll, bringing the total to more than 200, McInver said.
“There was a lot to do,” she told Noozhawk on Monday. “We’ve seen a lot of neighbors coming through and asking when we’re going to open. We think there’s going to be a lot of momentum. This is a long day coming.”