Pair Build Fabulous Motel

Westbrook Pegler

El Paso Herald-Post/August 1, 1962

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. —The boy at the filling station stopped in mid-swipe at the windshield. “Is there a decent motel around here?” he exclaimed. “Mister we have got the greatest. The Madonna Inn.” “It sounds like a convent or a monastery.” “No that is this man’s name. Alex Madonna. He is a construction contractor. Highways and bridges and he built a dam, too.” “You couldn’t be on the payroll, could you? This is quite a plug for a tavern.”

“No, but about 700 people around here are on his payroll. And it is quite a tavern.”

But it was night and a little red sign on the Madonna Inn said “Sorry; no vacancies.” So Mrs. Fran Pubins, four years out of Hempstead, L. I., who now runs the Homestead Inn, said: “Go to the Madonna for dinner, anyway. It is the absolutely. I can’t describe it. We go there ourselves sometimes for meals and be sure to visit the little boys’ room and the little girls’. I mean it now, be sure, don’t miss those.”

This sounded like cross-filing, a California political vice which inflicted Earl Warren on a nation already troubled, but Mrs. Pubins’ son, Bob, who helps around the Homestead, said: “Be sure to visit the ladies’ room and the men’s room. Honest, everybody does.”

The wine cellar is the main dining room to date with more a’building and more bars, too, but there was room in the place called by the inadequate name of the coffee shop, which had old-fashioned drug store soda fountain chairs arrayed at tables and a border of booths of massive California wood carved with grapes and other conventional symbols of abandon and abundance.

There were many pretty girls serving the tables, young and special who turned out to be co-eds from California Polytech in town.

The next morning I rounded up Alex Madonna and sat again in the same booth with this phenomenal young man and his banker, E. J. Fabri of the Bank of America, one of the late A. P. Giannini’s boys.

Mr. Madonna is a chunk, a rock of a man, with blue eyes and fair hair becoming scant above the forehead and forearms like the village blacksmith’s. His grandparents came from the southerly slope of Switzerland, two of many Italo-Swiss on the California coast. His own father died when Alex was only 8.

Mrs. Madonna was not destitute. Her husband had been a scale model rancher. But Alex had a bonus heritage of character and ambition and he soon began to grapple with life as a contractor, mowing lawns. He related that he was supposed to get 65 cents for mowing one lawn, but never got more than 44 cents.

In another job he slept in an attic above the bedroom of a dairyman who would rap him awake at 3 a. m. by whacking the ceiling with a shoe.

Alex says these incidents taught him to think. He seems to think very well, for he often underbids all opposition on multi-million jobs. Only 41 and he says he feels about 35.

He has no managers at the Madonna Inn. Such executives worry the help.

Alex finished high school, but never went to college. Neither did Phyllis, his wife, who is beautiful and responsible for the great beauty of the apartments in the Madonna Inn, no two alike, and the Gay Nineties decoration of the famous little girls’ room.

They had a job to serve a dinner for 700 in the wine cellar, which was only a “project” two weeks before the date. Carpenters, electricians, woodcarvers, plumbers and all worked around the clock until almost deadline, when Phyllis whirled into action on the girls’ room and Alex rubbed his mighty palms together and materialized the one next door for the boys.

These rooms are now a regional treasure only a little less vaunted than a castle. People pass the word and Mrs. Madonna said the demand is so insistent from both genders that now and again if scouts report that the coast is clear, parties are conducted into the premises.

Alex Madonna’s coat of arms is a design of the pick and shovel. It is all over the place. Stamped on copper-top tables, carved into massive wooden doors and wrought into grills. He discovered an enormous vertebra and a hip-and-leg bone in one great hunk of grey stone in the wine room — dinosaur stuff, perhaps.

Alex has never had a smoke and, like Joe Kennedy, who imported oceans of whiskey, he has never learned the taste of liquor.



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