Dennis Madison, founder of bookstore Fahrenheit 451, died in
Laguna on July 24th. He was 82.
Madison founded the popular and long-lived bookstore in 1966 in
Dana Point but soon moved it to a shop just up from the Hotel Laguna
on the Coast Highway. His idea was to combine a gallery and bookstore
and to concentrate on selling controversial books with political or
The name for the bookstore came from a Ray Bradbury novel and
movie. Set some time in the future, Farenheit 451 (the temperature at
which books burn) speculates that the government might decide to
limit individual’s freedom by burning books.
Ray Bradbury was on hand when the store opened. By way of
publicity, Madison arranged an insurance policy with insurers Lloyds
of London to the effect that if the government ever decided to burn
books they would make Madison a payment of $1 million. Fahrenheit 451
survived, albeit under different owners until 2000. Although famous
as the founder of Fahrenheit 451, Madison had a colorful life both
before and after the bookstore. Born in London, England, Madison came
to the US when he was only 16. He worked in New York as a theater
manager and met many of the jazz greats. He arrived in Hollywood some
time in the 40s and worked in some famous Hollywood restaurants
including the Brown Derby and Romanovs. He even worked in Laguna’s
own Victor Hugo (now Las Brisas).
Later, Madison used his combined assets of genteel good manners
and large size (being taller than six feet tall) to launch an
Attorney Service/ Process Service agency. He would present a summons
with the words, “I hate to have to give you this.” His partner was
then “wanna be” actor Mike Farrell (MASH and Providence). Madison
moved with his wife Margaret Madison to Laguna in 1961. He and
Margaret joined the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (UU), hosting
meetings in their home. Madison became the UU’s president from 1962
to 1964. The UU continues today on Cypress Drive.
Although they later divorced, Madison and Margaret collaborated in
the early 70s on another Laguna project, campaigning local newspaper,
The Village Sun. Margaret was also a well known Laguna resident in
her own right as a potter and founding member of the Sawdust
Some time later Madison returned to England developing a career as
a well-respected trade editor and journalist. He returned to Laguna,
at 67, not to retire, but with yet another business, the
Anglo-American Press Bureau. Here he scoured U.S. newspapers for
stories he could feed to such diverse English magazines as Motorcycle
News, Electrical Contracting News and Golf Monthly. He issued his
last invoice on July 1, just three weeks before he passed on.
Dennis will be sorely missed by his many friends in Laguna and his
son Mardy Madison of Bend, Oregon, and his daughter Marla Madison of
London, England. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday
Aug. 20 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 429 Cypress Drive
and will be followed by drinks (from 5:30 p.m.) at the White House
Bar, 340 S. Coast Highway.
In lieu of flowers please make a donation to the Multiple
Sclerosis Society (1-800-344-4867) For further details contact Aileen
Goodson on (949) 452- 0236.
-- Obituary written by Marla Madison