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It'll Be Tops at the New Mt. Madonna Inn

The historic Hecker Pass Road restaurant plans to reopen this spring. Here's a sneak preview.

Once billed as "the most spectacular view in 21 counties," the long-shuttered Mt. Madonna Inn plans to reopen this spring.

The roadside restaurant is a landmark at the top of Hecker Pass, just feet from the Santa Cruz-Santa Clara county line. But for more than two years, the eatery has been closed.

That will change as soon as the end of April, when restaurateur Howard Webber leases the historic building, according to Joshua Fischer, managing director at Sterling Pacific Financial in Watsonville. The investment company gained control of the Mt. Madonna Inn through foreclosure.

Picture casual dining, some takeout for busy highway travelers and perhaps events. With the right alcohol permitting, it's possible the establishment would include a wine tasting venue featuring Santa Cruz Mountain vintners.

"I'd love to see the guy be successful," Fischer said. "He's got some really great ideas."

The Inn, which first opened in the 1960s, used to be a stylish and sometimes rancorous place. A 1970s KNTV commercial for the Mt. Madonna Inn offered "panoramic dining high on a hilltop" as well as music and great views of the Monterey Bay.

"It has a very storied past," Fischer said.

But the business fell on hard times in recent years. Caltrans closures of Highway 152 about five years ago limited business. The Mt. Madonna Inn closed temporarily during the road construction. Eventually, the owner leased the facility out to a Mexican bandolero, which ran into trouble for having non-permitted live music.

The Mt. Madonna Inn closed for good a couple of years back. The owner staved off foreclosure for a time. Sterling Pacific Financial, with an office on Freedom Boulevard, gained control of the property last year.

Fischer gave Watsonville Patch a tour of the currently empty building a recent afternoon.

The cavernous restaurant looks like something out of The Godfather. Black leather booths ring the top level of the Mt. Madonna Inn. Wrought iron railings separate sections of the dining room and every seat has breathtaking view of the Pajaro Valley and Monterey Bay.

There's a stage and two dance floors in the bar area. That same railing surrounds one dance area—which is sunken below the level of the main floor—but is bent in toward the dancing space, likely from years of people leaning against it to watch the action.

"When we finally got into clean it up, there was a stripper pole on the stage," Fischer said.

The facility needed a lot of work. Now, the pole is gone, along with eight Dumpsters of trash. Other oddities were pulled out of the restaurant, including 30 plastic kiddie chairs and some menus from the 1970s. The fireplace centered in the bar area remains, as do the chandeliers and dance floor. Downstairs, there's a banquet room.

It's also zoned for a bed and breakfast and sits on a substantial plot of land with a recently drilled well. Fischer noted there are no plans to add a hotel feature to the Inn.

Fischer said he hopes the Mt. Madonna Inn can become more of a destination, rather than a highway stop.

"It's got a lot of potential," Fischer said.

Even with the new front windows boarded up to prevent vandalism, motorists and cyclists paused into the parking lot to scope out the bay on the sunny afternoon. Last summer, Motor Trend magazine did a photo shoot in the parking lot because of the picturesque setting.

"People will pull in, check out the view," Fischer said. "It's going to be great when our tenant gets in."

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Cathy P. February 02, 2012 at 03:26 PM
I remember this place in better times. We'd drive all the way from East San Jose to eat and enjoy the view at sunset when I was a child. Hecker Pass was trecherous then and not a road you'd drive everyday (like I do now, lol). I've always hoped the right venue would be found for this beautiful setting. I hope it works out.
Steve Bankhead February 02, 2012 at 04:32 PM
The Inn used to offer great Sunday brunches...ah, mimosas, meals and a magnificent view of the bay. Hopefully those brunches will be back on the menu eventually.
Jennifer Squires February 02, 2012 at 04:51 PM
The view alone is worth the trip up the mountain for a meal. The only place with an even comparable outlook on the bay is the Chaminade in Santa Cruz. I hope people support it so the restaurant can get back to those glory days.
Maria Grusauskas February 02, 2012 at 05:13 PM
This is awesome! Can't wait to see it. haha I cant believe they found a stripper pole..
Shirley Christmore Stroh February 02, 2012 at 06:20 PM
I love it there. Such a great view, but a word of caution. A few lives have been changed drastically due to over consumption of alcohol, then driving down that hill. Please control ,"people getting drunk". It's always the innoicent who suffer. Thanks.
MaryEllen Valdivia February 02, 2012 at 07:49 PM
I drive by it every morning and afternoon, I've seen the recent work being done and can't wait to see it opened up for business.
Patricia L. Solan February 02, 2012 at 08:27 PM
It would be great to see the restaurant open again ... and yes,the driving is hazardous for some but a motel connected to the restaurant would be an asset where parties who are drinking might want to stay the night and avoid a dangerous situation. Good luck!
cindy mcdowell February 03, 2012 at 09:26 PM
I am so glad that the restaurant is reopening. It has been an eyesore for a while. Believe me, Hwy 152 is so much safer now than it has ever been. CALTRANS is working on that Hwy almost every day, I think they live up there sometimes. I travel Hwy 152 almost everyday. I would suggest they contract with someone that provides a trolly or van for wine tasting like they do in Monterey since they will have wine local wining tasting there. It could save lives since most of the accidents I see up there, besides weather related, are mostly alcohol related, not because the Hwy is narrow and curvy. It's actually a beautiful drive, like HWY 9.The restaraunt will bring a lot of tourists and business from over the hill to Santa Cruz County and every little bit helps these days.
Joe Smith February 12, 2012 at 10:14 PM
The article mentions that the new tenant is a restauranter, curious as to what other restaurants he has been involved with.
Dreamgirl May 31, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Sadly, Mt Madonna Inn still sits idle now nearly June. This place has so much potential, I personally would never consider relying on wine tasting alone. Venue's, resort, RV's, infinity pool, spa services, etc., etc.. Naturally keep the original retro area intact but who need all 6000 plus square feet to have cocktails on a hilltop? Make it and we will come.
Jennifer Squires May 31, 2012 at 05:37 AM
I've heard they're having trouble getting a liquor license ... not surprising considering the location.
Jennifer Squires September 18, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Memories of the old Mt. Madonna Inn are getting kicked around on this story about long-gone Watsonville restaurants. Check it out. http://watsonville.patch.com/articles/long-gone-restaurants-which-ones-do-you-miss-most-7f67ed06#photo-11383470
Whitney Wilde November 19, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Hey Jennifer! Will they be dog-friendly when they re-open?
Joe Smith March 24, 2013 at 10:31 AM
have you ever looked into the defaulted property taxes on the property?

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