April 30, 2004 by

Alex Madonna


Categories: Business, Military

Alex Madonna, the owner of the landmark Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, Calif., died on April 22 of a heart attack. He was 85.
The California native opened his own construction company before he graduated from high school. During World War II, Madonna served in the Army Corps of Engineers, building roads and landing strips in the South Pacific. When he returned to the states, Madonna’s construction firm built or repaved most of Highway 101 and constructed the bridge above the Twitchell Reservoir. In 1958, Bridges magazine named it the most beautiful bridge in the country.
That same year, Madonna and his wife Phyllis opened the Madonna Inn, a kitchy, Swiss chalet-style hotel. The central coast establishment, which was known for offering 109 rooms decorated in different themes, advertised its presence to travelers with a flashing, hot pink neon sign.
Tourists with a fetish for red leather walls often reserved the blood-colored “Tack Room.” A gigantic waterwheel moved dancing Bavarian figurines along one wall of the Old Mill room. And the Caveman Room, with its solid rock floors and walls, appealed to those looking to indulge their Neanderthal tendencies. A cafe made entirely from copper and a waterfall urinal in the men’s restroom also drew crowds.
Besides the inn, the “host from the coast” owned a shopping center in Santa Maria, several thousand acres of property and cattle and horse ranches in California and Oregon.

18 Responses to Alex Madonna

  1. judy blankenship

    Pink is Perfect! What a guy he was! He put
    San Luis Obispo on the map for everyone! Prior
    to that, no one even mentioned SLO.
    He lived life to the fullest, and passed without
    pain, which in today’s world is a true blessing.
    How can you ask for anymore than that? We
    attended the fashion show and saw how he
    relished in all of it and may the family be
    blessed in knowing…………what a guy, ay?

  2. Barbara Ross

    I visited the Inn back in 1976. It made a lasting impact upon me… one I shall never forget.
    I often think about my experience and tell it to many friends and relatives. I shall never forget the glorious pink in/out/and all about the property. The pink sugar cubes on the tables in the cafe were just precious. Wish I had known Alex. He had to have been a unique and wonderful soul…..Amen

  3. Anonomous

    He was an outstanding and loving man. I loved him very much, and still think about him every day. I think about and remember all the good times we had. He was a excellent person and role model and i will never forget him. He was the best grandpa ever!
    Love, ur grandson.

  4. Dawn Stickel

    My husband and I spent our honeymoon at the Madonna Ranch House, 22 years ago. We have tried to spend every anniversary there ever since. On our last anniversary there (November 2002), we were fortunate enough to meet him and his lovely wife. He signed his book for us and told us briefly about the history of the Inn. Although I only met him briefly, I genuinly liked him, and I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for him and his beautiful pink Inn!!!
    John and Dawn Stickel

  5. Kimberly Nadeau

    I used to talked to Mr.Madonna about an aircraft he owned he was the sweetest man i ever have gotten to talk to. he used to always invite my husband and I to the Inn but i never was able to get there..I wish i would have gotten to meet him, my heart and prayers go to him and his family as i apologize i just found out today as I was never told..
    Rest in peace
    Mr. Madonna

  6. Anthony Romero

    I was Kitty’s busboy for two years and used to serve Alex and Phillis at they’re corner table. He wanted no one but me to bring him coffee and serve his family and I would step away from the Coffer Bar to greet him and Phillis and Kathy often. He always treated me like a member of the family and was never too busy to talk to the employees he favored. Both he and Phillis were one of a kind people who understood elegance and hospitality. It was rare then and it still is. Their generosity was uncomparable. I plan to go back some day and remember.

  7. Patricia K. Shaw

    Right at this moment I am sitting in the Sir Walter Raleigh room. This is my first time at the inn but i know it will not be my last. This is a most idyllic place with a wonderful restaurant, and flowers everywhere. We are planning to spend Christmas here.
    I do not know the Madonnas but they must be special people to build and maintain such a wonderful place!

  8. Nancy Mitchell

    My husband Mike and I stayed at the Madonna Inn in June, 1978 on our honeymoon (Irish Hills Suite). We both fell in love with the Inn. We have stayed there every year on our anniversary (except for one that we missed). We stay at a different room each time. It is hard to pick a favorite one because they are all so unique. We have always considered the Madonna Inn as “our place”-it is very special to us. Although we saw Alex Madonna several times we never met him or directly spoke to him. In retrospect, we wish that we had. May you rest in peace Alex and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for building the Inn. We hope that it continues to stay open for each new generation of travelers and couples celebrating their weddings and anniversaries. With Love,
    Mike and Nancy Mitchell, Loma Linda. CA

  9. kevin

    I work for Mr. Madonna in the early 80’s at the construction company It was my first Union job and what a great job Mr. Pate was the shop foreman and Steve was the lead man we had a crew of about 10 as i recall. He treated us great and he kept us working as long as he could . then the bisd s ran out for a while and we had to be laid off. it was a truly great job.

  10. Vik Bangia

    When I was a real estate manager for Unocal Corporation (Union Oil Company of California) I used to go visit with Alex to ‘negotiate’ the sale of the ‘Fred Flintstone’ former 76 gas station that you pass by on the long driveway into the Madonna Inn property. The contract stated that Alex had an option to purchase the station if and when Unocal closed it. Fred Hartley, former CEO of Unocal apparently negotiated the contract with Alex directly.
    Alex maintained the (contract notwithstanding) that he and Fred were buddies and that since Hartley has passed on, Unocal should just give him the property since a) he owned the property surrounding it, b) all the easements for utilities leading to it were under his control, and c) Hartley would have wanted it that way.
    Unocal and Alex were basically at a standoff. Alex had a legitimate point about site control and access and from my vantage point, representing the company, a contract was a contract. So, on a regular basis I went down to SLO to see if Alex had a change of heart and would pay Unocal some $200K for the property.
    Alex was such a nice and charming guy. He always sent me home to Walnut Creek without a deal but with 2 armfuls of pies and pastries from the Madonna Inn’s awesome bakery. This was in 1997 – 1998. My (then girlfriend, now) wife loved it when I traveled to meet Alex.
    My sister and her new hubby just celebrated her honeymoon at the Madonna Inn last week and I started to wonder if old Alex was still around. I Googled and found this blog.
    God bless you Alex. I hope Unocal eventually gave you the property. The pies were delicious!
    – Vik Bangia

  11. Humberto F. Olguin Marin

    I was during my collegue years one of the bussboys in the Madonna Inn, and I remembered the nice people that were Mr. and Mrs Alex Madonna. Mr. Madonna was the nicest and friendly person and a great boss, he used to call me “Pedro”, to give me hard time for my latin origin, we used to laugh a lot. Great times there, and the people that worked at the time, were terrific. Betty, Josephine, Dolores, Gary and of course Van, without forgetting Duchess the beautifull lioness, that Van took care of her and we used to take to the beach. Imagine peole faces as we drove her in Van’s convertible Bugatti, great times at the Madonna Inn

  12. Anon

    I worked for Madonna Inn in the kitchen for three years in the late 80’s. It was hard work and one of my first jobs. Mr. Madonna was a hands on guy. He had his finger on the pulse of all that went on. On one occasion, he disciplined me about my work performance by explaining that his business ventures existed as much of the employee benefit as they did for his. His approach gave me an idea that his heart was in his business. He truly cared about his employees and wanted them to work hard. I have worked for many companies, large and small. My favorite job was working for Mr. Madonna.
    God bless you and your family. God bless Winnie too.

  13. Anonomous

    I loved him! He was definitely my Hero… This man was one who you could never forget, one who was truly blessed. I will never forget you grandpa…. I love You! <3
    Love, Yor grandaughter

  14. norm

    My Dad went up to Santa Marie for business in the 1960s and 1970s And in traveling with him a few times is how I got turned on to the Madonna Inn, I lived up in Atascadero in 1996 to 1998. I now plan to move back to the central coast. Just for fun I looked up to see if the owner of the Madonna inn was still alive and i see he passed away. This place will allways bring back memories to me of when my Dad first took me there and he made sure I saw the mens room with the famous urnal!!!!!!!

  15. Jim Barbee

    I too was a busboy at the Inn waaaay back in 1979 through 1981. It was a unique experience. Alex and Phyllis were always polite. But, the day Alex found out I came from a ranch in the Salinas Valley, he became very interested in me and who I knew from the valley. Turned out we had quite a few friends in common. At one point I as a starving college student, needed a bed. Phyllis sold me one of those double quilted king size beds from the hotel for $20.00…yeah, god that was nice. I found out later how much those beds actually sell for…wow! I could go on for days about all the things I know; but, some things should remain unsaid. But, trust me…they’re REALLY good memories.
    Thanks Alex,
    May you be givin’ ’em hell up there!

  16. M. Scott

    My mom had her retirement dinner in the restaurant.
    My dad always told me that anyone wanting to do business with Alex Madonna had to seal the contract with a handshake, at least in the 1960’s. He was old-school about that; “Let’s shake on it” really meant something to him. If a man wouldn’t shake on a deal, he didn’t do business with Alex Madonna. Mr. Madonna’s word truly was his bond, but woe to anyone that went back on their handshake. There were none finer or more honorable.
    And the pecan pie in the coffee shop is the best in the entire world!

  17. Gregg Mann

    We had our 2003 Christmas party at Madonna and Mr. Alex stopped by our table to say hello and make sure that we were having an enjoyable time. What a true gentleman he was.

  18. Anonomous

    I have already written a tribute, but I’m going to do another. Alex Madonna was my grandfather, and an amazing one at that. I remember when I would go to the inn and sit with him, and we would play a game at the table where you try to slap eachothers hands… I miss that soo much. The times I had with him were ones I will never forget. When he passed away, I was completely shocked, and i didnt know what to do. After 5 years, I am better with it, but i still think about him everyday. I was just thinkin about him, and I thought I would write this. Grandpa, I MISS YOU SO MUCH, i hope your okay up there. Love you <3

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