Before the construction of that long, ever-widening ribbon of asphalt and concrete through Madera known as “the freeway” travelers went through town on F Street, now Gateway Drive. From the north end to the south there were many motels catering to the road weary. Few of these lodgings were frequented by locals, but on the outskirts of town to the north there was one exception.
Today, north of the Fresno River and the infamous intersection of Gateway and Cleveland, tourists and locals will speed past the fenced ruins of the Madera Inn without so much as a glance at the Spanish tile roofs or imagine what they might have found in the 1950s had they stopped for the night.
Pulling into the parking lot underneath the sign that now reflects the later owners, Whitaker’s 4x4 -Auto Wrecking, a guest would have found the motel office door to the right. After registering they could have enjoyed a meal by simply walking a few steps past a large fireplace to the restaurant where they could have their choice of sitting at the small bistro tables in the café or exit the rear and enjoy an outdoor culinary experience on the covered patio area with the odor of grilling steaks wafting from a large brick barbecue.
Ray Whitaker, now 81, purchased the Madera Inn after it ceased operation in 1969 to expand his wrecking yard. Previously, Whitaker owned and operated the similar El Don Motel that stood where the Madera Cinema is now located, but by then the freeway had most travelers passing through without stopping. “I ran it for seven years and then called the fire department and asked them if they would like to practice on it,” said Whitaker. They did, burning it to the ground...