The Madonna Inn. It’s pretty hard to live here and not recognize that name. When I was little, I visited it at Christmas, and I remember two things: it was very pink and had a lot of crazy Christmas trees. But it stuck with me.
I figured a column about this place needed a little more than just pink and Christmas trees, so I went back to find out more.
I started with a quick history lesson of the place from Madonna Enterprises’ president of real estate, Clint Pearce.
Alex Madonna was a local construction company owner, and in the late 1950s with the “Eisenhower highway boom” there was more opportunity for roadside business, including hotels. But in his business travels around the state (he worked on both Highway 101 and Highway 5) he found there weren’t many nice places to stay and eat, Pearce said. So he and his wife Phyllis decided to do something about it. Madonna “liked to do things differently,” Pearce said, and wanted to create someplace more unique.
Pearce said Madonna built almost everything himself with his own crew, but brought in craftsmen to help “with the artistic side of it” — and everything was custom-made on site. The reason for all the pink is Madonna thought it was a friendly color that looked good and complimented a woman’s look, Pearce said. The inn first opened its doors on Christmas Eve in 1958.
It didn’t take long for word of the Madonna Inn to spread — within a few years of its opening, it became “sort of world-renowned.”
“It may have been one of the first theme hotels in the country, or maybe the world,” Pearce said. “Now, boutique hotels are all the rage and the trend now — we’ve been a boutique hotel since we were built.”
The inn is still getting attention today. Pearce told me an episode of “The Bachelor” was filmed there last year, and just two days before our interview actor Josh Brolin had also been at the inn. Not too shabby.
I think it’s still one of a kind today. All the details of the place are almost overwhelming: the carpets, the furniture, the lights, the stained-glass windows — everything is so over-the-top. I would probably need another column to really give it all justice. You know what I mean if you’ve been there. And it’s all the original 1958 construction, Pearce said.
And the actual rooms are even cooler. You know how hotel rooms are usually boring? Well not here.
“(Madonna) liked to joke that he built every room different,” Pearce said. “That way no one could get bored of any one room, and then he could never be wrong either.”
Well it wasn’t all a joke — Madonna did it. He made every one of his rooms different, and today there are 110 of them each with their own theme. I got to see the “Madonna Suite,” “Bridal Falls” and the famous “Caveman” room, which Pearce said is booked 95 percent of the time. That one is pretty unforgettable — the walls, floor and ceiling are all real rock, and the bed has a leopard print cover.
“He knew when he built it that it wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea,” Pearce said. “Even people who didn’t like it and thought it was tacky or whatever would still find some fun in it and still could enjoy it.”
In building the restaurants Pearce said Madonna wanted a place where people could have three meals a day, seven days a week and not get tired of it — and they’ve worked to continue that. They also pride themselves on their desserts and cakes, Pearce said. Those cakes live up to the rest of the inn by also being pretty unique — the one I’d heard about the most about is the Pink Champagne cake.
After Madonna’s death in 2004 the pool, expo center, spa and hiking and biking trail were added. All the rooms have also been remodeled to go “deeper into the theme” than the original, Pearce said. The inn has also hosted some techno concerts (Steve Aoki, anyone?). Keeping the place fun and “in the same spirit” it was built in is important, according to Pearce, but they also have to stay relevant.
Most of their business is people who have heard or read about the inn, Pearce said. But he added they want to be available to locals as well — their restaurants “are just as much of a local place as a tourist draw.”
However, tourists (the hotel’s “bread and butter”) aren’t as cost-conscious about hotels as other people might be.
“We have to be competitive, but it’s not as important for us to be right in line with rates all over town,” Pearce said.
You could spend a day or even a whole weekend just walking around the Madonna Inn, even (and maybe especially) if you live here. Head over there, have a piece of cake and just take it all in. You really have to see it to believe it.