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Eric Friden, 61; Avid Polo Player, Hotelier Had Plans to Restore Landmark El Encanto Hotel

August 05, 2003|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Eric Friden, owner of the landmark El Encanto Hotel and Garden Villas in Santa Barbara and a skilled amateur polo player, has died of a brain stem injury suffered in a fall from his polo pony. He was 61.

Friden died July 29 at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. He had been thrown from his saddle two days earlier after his horse stumbled during a weekend practice match at the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club in Carpinteria.

"It was a freak accident and a tragic situation," said Robert Fell, a longtime friend and a fellow polo player, who remembered Friden as "a man of passion."

"He was passionate about his family, passionate about his sports, passionate about his friends and passionate about the community of Santa Barbara," Fell told The Times on Monday. "He was a man of absolute passion and integrity."

Friden was a co-founder of FHC Hotel Management, a Santa Barbara-based company that owns and operates nine hotels across the country.

Friden purchased the historic El Encanto (the Enchanted) Hotel and Garden Villas in 1977. The 85-year-old hotel, which is made up of 84 hotel cottages and a main building, includes a restaurant and conference rooms, is on 10 acres in the foothills and overlooks Santa Barbara and the ocean.

During its peak of popularity from 1933 to 1950, El Encanto hosted such Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable, Carol Lombard and Hedy Lamarr, as well as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Friden, who moved to Santa Barbara in the late 1970s and most recently lived in nearby Carpinteria, said he wanted to restore El Encanto's original grandeur.

"Historic preservation is our goal," he told the Santa Barbara News-Press late last year. "We want people to have the experience of stepping back in time to the '20s and '30s.

"The property needs to be restored. I see El Encanto becoming a five-star hotel."

Roy Allan, senior vice president of FHC Hotel Management, said Monday that El Encanto was Friden's favorite among his company's properties.

"It was his little gem," Allan said.

"Most of our other hotels are business-class hotels, and this is our only resort property. It always had a very special place in his heart. Fortunately, we have a good understanding of what his vision for the historic restoration of the property was, and we'll be carrying that out."

Current plans call for a $10- million restoration of the property's historic buildings and grounds.

The son of Carl Mauritz Friden, the inventor of the electric adding machine, Friden was born in Oakland and grew up in Sharon Center, Ohio, where he developed his love of horses on the family's ranch.

After attending Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, he earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Ohio State University, where he minored in animal husbandry.

He began his hotel career with Sheraton's management training program and worked at several hotels around the country. He became general manager of the Pasadena Hilton during its construction in 1969 and returned to Ohio in 1973 as president of the Lucayan Hotel Corp. and its flagship property, the Lucayan Beach Hotel in Freeport, Bahamas.

A member of the Eldorado and Santa Barbara polo clubs, Friden had played polo for two decades and served as handicap chairman of the Pacific circuit for the U.S. Polo Assn. of America.

In a 1989 interview with the Santa Barbara News-Press, he commented on the inherent dangers involved with polo: "Statistically, polo is considered the highest-risk sport next to auto racing. You just keep thinking it's not going to happen to you."

Friden is survived by his wife, Kerin; sons, Chris and Philip; stepfather, Andre Andreoli; brother and business partner, Rennick Andreoli; sister, Linda Nix; and six grandchildren.

Donations in Friden's name may be made to the Santa Barbara Foundation, Eric Friden Fund, 15 E. Carrillo St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

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