Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, California
Tribute by Jeffrey Sward
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The Madonna Inn motel was created by the late visionary Alex Madonna and his wife Phyllis. Construction of the current units began in 1966 and evolved over many years.

Each of the 109 rooms features a unique theme. For example, several room are have stone walls, stone floors and stone ceilings. Stone-themed rooms include the famous Caveman Room and Kona Rock Room. No two rooms are alike. Alex was fond of saying, "when every room is different, you can not make the same mistake twice." All of the rooms also feature coordinated themed furniture and decorations, such as a large cow bell in the Matterhorn room.

Despite the unique nature of each room, all interiors feature a bordello interior design style. Dark rich colors and velvet wall papers are common. A particularly fine example of bordello design is the flamboyant main dinning room or "Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steak House." Features of the steak house include bright red velvet wall paper, strings of lights suspended from gold lattice work in the ceiling, and large vases with bas relief figures.

Another famous feature of the Madonna Inn is in the public men's restroom next to the restaurant. The urinal in the men's restroom is a rock waterfall. Use of rocks to line showers and bathrooms is also common in many of the motel rooms, even in those which lack a rock theme.

Pink is Phyllis Madonna's favorite color, and hence pink dominates when other themes might be lacking. For example, signage is pink as are most promotional materials. Phyllis also plays the accordion. Bad taste in music and decor make a fine combination.

The decorating of the Madonna Inn sets a high standard for wretched excess and bad taste. Periodically, a particular decorating item might appear to exhibit good taste. Fear not. Ultimately the very context, combination with other items, and the room environment will inevitably lead to an overall appearance of bad taste. The Madonna Inn is a prime example of "more is less."

In order to imbibe in the ambience of the Madonna Inn, a multiple night stay is recommended. Most guests who stay more than one night change rooms daily. The motel staff has a regular program of moving packed bags from one room to another each day. Make sure to have your bags packed each morning and work out a schedule with the front desk.

The Madonna Inn has won the coveted golden flamingo award for attractions of exceptional concept and scope. Sheer imagination, creativity, excess, kitsch, and bad taste are the elixir of roadside attractions.

Visit the Madonna Inn web site.


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