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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