Madera County Historical Society
Madera’s “tenderloin” district can be seen here on the left of the photo. This area was home to the Owl Saloon in 1905.
The Owl Saloon was located on Madera’s west side not far from where the Yum Yum donut shop now stands. In the early 20th century the area was known as the “Tenderloin District.” It was a rowdy place; the law was constantly there breaking up fights, arresting drunks, and checking for prostitution.
One individual in town was particularly offended by the goings-on at the Owl Saloon. The Rev. A. L. Paul, of Madera’s Methodist Church made no bones about his opposition to the roughhouse drinking hole. So vociferous was the clergyman in his denunciation of the Owl that on Jan. 7, 1905, he found himself in front of the Madera County Board of Supervisors.
Apparently on the Sunday prior, Paul made some strong accusations against the Board of Supervisors for allowing the Owl Saloon to operate. He labeled the place a nuisance of the worst sort and blamed the members of the Board, who then demanded that Paul appear before them and repeat his charges. The preacher did just that.
With Paul standing before them, Supervisor Sledge started what became an inquisition by repeating something he heard that the preacher had said — “The Board licensed the Owl and had forgotten to hang themselves.”
“Why did you make such a remark,” asked Sledge? The minister replied, “One member of this board is a member of my church, and I wanted him to straighten up or get out.” Apparently Paul was referring to Supervisor Fowler who quickly responded, “Well, I don’t want to be a member of your church.”
Paul countered by saying, “I am a minister of the Gospel, and I was told that the Owl was a dance house and a dive, and I have the right to protest and will protest against saloons at all times.”
Sledge countered by saying, “I want you to understand that this board never licensed a dance hall. If you knew this was a dance hall, you should have gone to the district attorney.” Rev. Paul admitted that he may have been wrong, but he had been told that it was a dance house and a dive, and he had been “full of the spirit and it just burst out of me.”
When the board recessed for lunch, someone found P.M. Reynolds, the man who had provided the minister with his information. That afternoon, Reynolds appeared before the supervisors to state that he had never seen anyone dancing at the Owl, but that he had gained that impression by looking at the room. Reynolds said that no one had ever told him that dancing went on in the saloon.
When the Rev. Paul heard what Reynolds had told the board, he was livid. He announced in the newspaper that next Sunday he would answer his critics who had attacked him in print. This of course increased the size of his audience, which included Supervisors Brown, Sledge, and Fowler.
Rev. Paul began by telling the congregation that he was sorry to have to spoil a good sermon but that he was willing “to spoil a good many more if I can drive the saloons out of Madera.”
The pastor went on to state that the Tribune had been inaccurate in its reporting of Reynolds’ testimony before the board. Paul insisted that his friend had told the supervisors, when asked how he knew the Owl was a dance house, “because there was a bar and a woman barkeeper and a piano and violin and a big table and two men in there,” and they had told him it was a dance house. Therefore, Rev. Paul concluded that the Owl was indeed a dance hall.
In closing, Paul said he had checked the records and found that Supervisors Brown and Sledge had voted against the Owl license, so he apologized to them but in the case of “Brother Fowler,” the preacher pointed to his own parishioner and “shouted” the responsibility was all his.
Paul ended his discourse by saying he was not after the saloon men, just the saloons and the conditions they created.
The war between the preacher and the supervisors didn’t end that Sunday night. It took a few weeks later to settle things for good.
No one knows what started that fire in the weeds just behind the Owl, but between three and four in the morning, roaring flames gutted the building, and for some reason it was a long time before a fire alarm sounded.
There is no indication that any effort was made to solve the mystery of the Owl Saloon fire. Suffice it to say that it was not rebuilt; therefore, another license was not issued, and the record does not show that Rev. Paul ever spoke before the supervisors again.
Sometime we will have to check to see if Supervisor Fowler retained his membership in Madera’s Methodist Church.