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Year2005
MonthFebruary
Ref18
TitleAmerican Owner Of Bradenstoke
Author
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AMERICAN OWNER OF BRADENSTOKE’S TITHE BARN HAS DIED

We learn that Alex Madonna died ten months ago on 22 April 2004.

Since 1960 Alex Madonna had owned Bradenstoke’s Tithe Barn. Our Tithe Barn had been dismantled and shipped to California 1929/1930 by American newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, who initially planned to further adorn San Simeon. However, those plans did not come to fruition and it was eventually sold to Madonna who envisaged it being re-erected as a Wedding Chapel at the Madonna Inn. However, his application was refused permission – not felt to be earthquake-proof. The Tithe Barn is still in its crates and are kept in a secure warehouse. In 1998 the Barn’s sad and extraordinary tale was featured by the BBC in their series One Foot in the Past presented by Dan Cruikshank. At that time Madonna had not been interested in repatriating the Tithe Barn to Bradenstoke, but maybe his surviving family would reconsider?

Thank you to John Rowland for passing on the Daily Telegraph Obituary below – it is not for the faint-hearted …!

Daily Telegraph Obituary (27.04.04): Title: Cattle rancher whose notoriously tasteless Californian motel became a byword for kitsch and was immortalised by Umberto Eco.

Alex Madonna, who has died aged 85, was a property developer, a cattle rancher and the proprietor of the Madonna Inn, a 108-room pink hotel on the Californian coast which boasts themed bedrooms, a café made entirely from copper and a rock waterfall urinal; the Inn was immortalised in Umberto Eco’s collection of essays Travels in Hyperreality (1991), in which the Italian scholar analysed the American love of grotesque fakery.

“The poor words with which natural human speech is provided”, wrote Eco, “cannot suffice to describe the Madonna Inn … Let’s say that Albert Speer, while leafing through a book on Gaudi, swallowed an overgenerous dose of LSD and began to build a nuptial catacomb for Liza Minelli.” But that, he reiterated , could not convey its true ghastliness. In fact, the Inn’s architect was Madonna himself, who, in the mid-1950s, had spotted the perfect location for a motel at San Luis Obispo, on the highway running between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The Madonna Inn opened for business on Christmas Eve in 1958. Initially it had only 12 bedrooms, and each was lavishly and lovingly interior-designed by Madonna’s wife Phyllis. In the common areas the colour pink predominated (the Madonnas thought it was both romantic and flattering to women) and craftsmen from all over the world were employed to create the hand-painted murals, Tiffany-style lamps and elaborate wood carvings on booths, beams, cornices and pillars and a 28ft tree. Such was the attraction of the rock waterfall urinal (with giant clamshell sinks) that tourists of both sexes would visit, causing some embarrassment to gentlemen who genuinely needed to use the facilities.

Over the years Madonna added more and more bedrooms, each one individually designed and themed. The most popular, the Cave Man Room (regularly booked up to a year in advance) featured stone floors, walls and ceiling, a rock waterfall shower, leopard-skin bedspreads and a stained glass window of a caveman. But Madonna prided himself on Chestnut Foal, Desert Sands, Dot & Daisy, Edelwiess, Fabulous Fifties, Fox and Hound, Jungle Rock, Pick & Shovel, Sir Walter Raleigh, Tack Room or What’s Left.

Although many of the visitors came, undoubtedly, to experience the unremitting kitsch of the Madonna Inn, Madonna himself defended his masterpiece with pride. “Anybody can built one room and a thousand like it,” he said in 1992, “ I want people to come in with a smile and leave with a smile. It’s fun.”

Alex Madonna was born 19 November 1918 on a Californian ranch and attended lessons in a one-roomed schoolhouse, before going on to High School. While still at school he set himself up as a property developer and later worked as a cattle rancher. At one stage he was a ranching partner of John Wayne.

Although he had several other successful business ventures, including a shopping plaza and a highway construction company, Madonna was most proud of the Madonna Inn. In later life, seated in a specially-built gold booth, he and Phyllis would greet visitors to the hotel’s restaurant. The Inn is now run by his daughter, Connie Pearce, who recently announced plans to create a ‘European-style’ topless swimming pool.

Alex Madonna is survived by his wife, a son and three daughters.