‘Warring Italians — Fierce Fight — Lucca’s Barroom Wrecked’
Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society
At the turn of the 20th century, Maderans worked hard and played hard. This group labored at the Madera Sugar Pine mill by day and could find libations and excitement at night at the Lucca Hotel, which stood not far from the mill.
Long before Lucca’s Restaurant opened its doors in Madera, there was another Madera business that was also named after that well-known Italian province. The Lucca House, a hotel on the corner of what is now Gateway Drive and 6th Street, predated Lucca’s Restaurant by 35 years.
In the daytime, the Lucca House, which was operated by Luigi Simi, looked peaceful enough, but at night, the place sometimes turned into a veritable war zone.
We have noted in an earlier story how, in 1902, there was a shootout between the owner of the hotel and several inebriated Madera revelers. Bullets flew in every direction as Simi and his wife exchanged fire with a raucous mob that was intent on causing trouble in front of their hostel. Fortunately, no one was hit, and the fracas was settled in Madera’s justice court.
Not one person, however, who lived in Madera at the turn of the 20th century was under any illusions about how long peace would prevail at the local hotel. It became a regular Saturday night hot spot for law enforcement, and two years after the fireworks of 1902, there was another donnybrook at the Lucca House.
This second melee started about 7 o’clock on the evening of July 18, 1904, and by the time it was all over, a good deal of damage had been done. The owner of the hotel, Luigi Simi, was in the county hospital with a stab wound in the shoulder; Luigi Valenzia was in jail, and Deputy Sheriff F. P. Roberts was bruised and scratched. Meanwhile, several Italians nursed bruises made by the deputy’s club.
The headlines the next day read, “Warring Italians — Fierce Fight — Barroom Wrecked.”
No one was able to tell precisely how it all began. Nearly everyone had a different version of the story, but all agreed that wine and women were at the center of the affray, which started in the hotel bar.
Apparently two patrons who were quite drunk began to argue over the affections of a woman. When the pair squared off, they were each joined by their equally inebriated friends who couldn’t pass up a good round of fisticuffs. Soon glasses were being thrown, mirrors broken, and furniture busted.
At that point, Simi plunged into the middle of the fight in an attempt to save his saloon. He was met by Orlando Dellasanta who rewarded the proprietor for his efforts by driving a knife 2 and 1/2 inches into his shoulder, striking his breastbone.
After wielding his knife, Dellasanta dropped it and ran out the door while Simi stood there bleeding.
At that point, the noise of breaking glass and the smashing of furniture brought a crowd, which some numbered at 150 people, running to Lucca’s. Just as they reached the place, Valenzia opened the door, whipped out a pistol and fired three shots at the fleeing Dellasanta without hitting him. With this, the crowd of onlookers turned on their heels and scattered in every direction. Meanwhile Valenzia, having missed his mark, jumped off the porch in pursuit of Dellasanta.
Unable to catch Simi’s assailant, Valenzia ran to the back of the hotel, and as he passed a shed, he threw the pistol in the trash and continued his flight. Unfortunately for him, he was seen by one Henry George, who retrieved the firearm and later gave it to the law. Meanwhile, one of the crowd took off after Valenzia, captured him and turned him over to Under Sheriff John Hensley, who by now had arrived on the scene.
With Valenzia in tow, Hensley went to the front of the hotel just in time to see a “big man” run out of the building. The officer called for the fleeing man to stop, but his order went unheeded until Hensley drew his gun and fired a warning shot, which brought the fleeing man to an abrupt halt. Come to find out, the fugitive was not part of the disturbance; he was only trying to get out of Lucca’s alive.
Hensley was still holding on to Valenzia by the collar when Roberts showed up. At that point the under sheriff marched his prisoner over to the jail, and the deputy went inside the hotel where he almost found more than he bargained for. The fight was still going on at the bar, and when Roberts entered, five or six combatants turned on the lawman.
For a minute or two, it looked as if Roberts would get the worst of the fight when someone hit him on the shoulder with a piece of pipe. The lawman, however, was able to acquit himself with his nightstick quite well. He laid into his attackers with his club, and with the help of some of the non-combatants took the fight out of the troublemakers.
Doctor W.C. Reid was summoned to the Lucca House to examine Simi’s wound. He determined that it was serious, so off he went to the hospital.
Upon his release from the hospital, Simi wisely decided to get out of the hotel business. He sold the Lucca House to some investors who turned it into a Japanese boarding house, and he dropped off the pages of Madera’s history.
The record seems to show that a certain peace prevailed on the corner of Gateway and 6th Street after the Japanese took over from the Italians, and that peace was secured when the county bought the east end of what is now Courthouse Park. Strife did not raise its ugly head there again—unless one counts that time when the farmers and cotton pickers squared off in 1939.