Skeeko’s began as a gas station
Madera County Historical Society
Skeeko’s service station as it appeared in 1938 on Gateway Drive. It later became a Madera landmark as Skeeko’s bar.
Many historical landmarks dot the landscape of Madera, and one of these is an establishment on the corner of Gateway Drive and 1st Street that for decades was called Skeeko’s.
In its heyday, Skeeko’s was one of the best-known watering holes in Madera. Earlier, however, it had been an Italian restaurant, and even earlier it had its genesis as a gas station.
It was all the brainchild of one Alfredo Guiseppe Farnesi, an Italian immigrant who came to Madera early in the 20th century.
Farnesi was born on Jan. 20, 1888, in the village of San Lorenzo in Lucca, Italy, to Petro and Paolina Farnesi. Alfredo stayed at home and helped his parents until he was 19 and then left with his 17-year-old brother, Jacapo, to come to America.
After landing at Ellis Island, Alfredo and Jacapo traveled to Sanger, California, where they had another brother, Carado, who owned a vineyard and operated a winery there. Alfredo worked for his brother in the summer and in the winter he carried food and water to the lumberjacks in the mountain lumber camps. He worked hard, saved his money, and in 1916, following the advice of his friend Dominic Del Cerro, who farmed in the La Vina District, Alfredo moved to Madera with his dream. He wanted to open a gas station — Madera’s first.
Alfredo Farnesi’s first home in Madera was in the Barsotti Hotel on Gateway Drive, and it didn’t take the newcomer long to find the spot where he wanted to build his service station. The empty lot on the northwest corner of the highway (Gateway Drive) and 3rd street was perfect.
After consulting, Domenic Barsotti, the owner of the hotel in which he lived, Alfredo met the owner of the lot, Charles Floto, and made an offer to rent the property on which he wanted to build his gas station. Floto agreed and in turn introduced Farnesi to Ezio Cortopassi, who built Alfredo the building he wanted. By 1919, it was finished, and Alfredo opened his business, which he called Skeeko’s, a nickname he had acquired from a farmer who lived in the Sharon District north of Madera.
The first Skeeko’s had two pumps, a large room and a restroom in the back. Then, because he had not become proficient in English, Alfredo hired two teenage brothers to assist him — not because he needed help at the pumps — but to help him communicate with his customers.
All the while, Alfredo continued to visit his friends, the Del Cerros, and in time he met Mrs. Del Cerro’s sister, Caterina Tocchini. A courtship quickly developed, and in 1921, Alfredo and Caterina were married.
In the meantime, Alfredo decided to expand. He closed his first station and opened a new one just down the street. Here he built a much larger operation and kept the name Skeeko’s. It had 7 gas pumps and a house attached in the rear. In the next year, Alfredo became a father for the first time when his son, William was born.
In 1932, Alfredo tore down the service station and remodeled the front of the building. He also tore down the walls of the house but saved the restaurant. He was about to shift his business in a new direction. Where the walls of the house had been, he added a bar and a dining hall. Caterina did most of the cooking, specializing in Italian food.
Then in a propitious moment, prohibition was repealed, and America hit the bottle again. Alfredo Farnesi applied for and was granted the first liquor license in Madera. It cost him $200. His business began to build until the government threw up a hurdle. A law was passed declaring that anyone with a liquor license had to be a citizen. Since Alfredo had not yet been naturalized, that placed him on the horns of a dilemma. However, he was not without his options; he was determined that Skeeko’s would stay in business, so he looked to his brother, Corado, in Sanger.
Corado Farnesi had a son, Pete Farnesi, who was of legal age and was a citizen. Alfredo invited his nephew to move to Madera and to become his partner. Alfredo would not require the younger Farnesi to put up any money; all he had to do was to manage the place and put his name on the liquor license. In the meantime, Alfredo’s son, Bill, had reached the age of 16 and was able to help his father and his cousin in the business.
With Pete Farnesi managing the place he added a truck stop to their business complex, and Bill managed the pumps. Pete also put in a bar with three booths and 12 stools. Skeeko’s was now not only a gas station, it had a restaurant and a bar. In time the gas pumps were removed for good, and Pete Farnesi opened up a restaurant of his own in Chowchilla. In 1953, Alfredo Farnesi officially retired and sold Skeeko’s to Marge Davis.
Alfredo Farnesi died in Madera at the age of 94, but his creation, “Skeeko’s,” lives on in the minds of many Maderans. Likewise, his nephew, Pete Farnesi, left his mark on Madera, but that’s another story.