Fess Parker, the face of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone to an entire generation of Americans and perhaps the best-known developer in Santa Barbara, died at his home in the Santa Ynez Valley on March 18. He was 85.
A Texas native, the television frontiersman played Davy Crockett in the 1950s and Daniel Boone in the 1960s, spawning a hit song — “ The Ballad of Davy Crockett” — and nationwide interest in coon-skin caps. After retiring from acting in the 1970s, Parker came to Santa Barbara County to become a tri-county developer, hotelier and winery owner.
Parker’s signature waterfront development is Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort in Santa Barbara. His influence on the Santa Barbara’s premier stretch of beach front along Cabrillo Boulevard persists with a 150-room luxury hotel on adjacent land that is in the final stages of planning.
During an interview with the Business Times in 2007, Parker said he was following in the footsteps of others in Hollywood who were successful in real estate.
“Gene Autry, Bob Hope and Art Linkletter all made an impression on me,” said Parker. His other influence in business was his father, he said.
“Dad was a salaried employee who dabbled in real estate” in Texas during the Great Depression, recalled Parker, who celebrated his 83rd birthday with the Business Times in 2007 as the keynote speaker at its Spirit of Small Business Awards held at the DoubleTree. The Business Times had chocolate coon-skin caps cooked up for dessert in Parker’s honor.
In the 2007 interview, Parker said he found that persistence and the ability to “surround yourself with people of good humor” were the keys to his success in business.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Parker graduated from the University of Texas and received his master’s in drama from the University of Southern California. Although he is best known for his acting, he said he was proud of directing five of the most popular episodes of the Daniel Boone show.
Opened in 1986, the DoubleTree Resort is set on 23.5 acres that Parker acquired and shepherded through Santa Barbara’s notoriously difficult permitting process. In 1987 he acquired a 714-acre ranch that he and his family operated as Fess Parker’s Winery & Vineyard. He also owned the former Grand Hotel in Los Olivos, a 21-room Victorian Inn that he frequently visited. The Parker family also farms 300 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley.
In 2007, Parker told the Business Times his interest in the Santa Barbara area dated back to the 1950s, when he was studying at U.S.C. and read several articles about the future Los Angeles “megalopolis.” The Texas native said he was drawn to the Central Coast, which offered wide-open spaces and a less frenzied lifestyle than Los Angeles.
Parker and his wife Marcella celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January, Parker’s family said in a statement. He is survived by their son Eli and daughter Ashley, as well as 11 grandchildren and one great grandchild, the family wrote.
“It should be said that Fess was always extremely grateful to his long time fans for their continued support and friendship over the years,” the Parker family said in a statement.