California Boutique: Four Sisters Inns

The Milliken Creek Inn and Spa is one of the Four Sisters Inns group.

A canopy bed at the Milliken Creek Inn and Spa invites romance. (BG)

Once upon a time, there were four Post sisters. They lived in a big house on California’s Monterey Peninsula. And that’s where the story of the Four Sisters Inns begins.

The house, in Pacific Grove, was a spectacular Queen Anne Victorian built in 1888 overlooking Monterey Bay. It was called the Green Gables, and had previously been operated as an inn. When the sisters’ father, a mortgage banker from Los Angeles, went shopping for a new family home in 1972, he found the Victorian perfect for a family of daughters approaching their teens.

The Four Sisters in the 1970s: from left, Jennifer, Stephanie, Kim and Shelley. (Courtesy Four Sisters Inns)

Fast forward a few years. The City of Pacific Grove informed Mr. Post that it would soon revoke the inn’s business license, as it was no longer welcoming paying guests. That set the family to scheming.

“We decided to open some rooms to rent the next summer,” Shelley Post recalled in a January interview. “We were all going to summer camps anyway, and we decided we could share bedrooms for a few weeks when we were home.”

That was 1976. The following summer, when Shelley was 16, she and a girlfriend ran the Green Gables Inn, welcoming guests, baking cookies and cleaning rooms. Thus began a career of more than four decades as a leader in the hospitality industry.

Of the four Post sisters, only two were actually involved full-time in the hotel business. Kim Post handled marketing until she decided to devote her energies to raising three children, Shelley said.

Four Sisters Inns' founder Shelley Post

Founder Shelley Post (BG)

Growing the company

Shelley graduated from Illinois’ highly regarded Wheaton College in 1982, then lived in France for six years. During her absence, her father purchased the Gosby House Inn in Pacific Grove, expanding it from 10 rooms to 22, then sold his mortgage banking business to focus on commercial real estate. By the time Shelley had returned from overseas, the Four Sisters Inns had mushroomed in number.

“When I came back,” Shelley recalled, “I wound up running our Carmel property, the Cobblestone Inn, and our two San Francisco hotels, the White Swan and the Petite Auberge. And I expanded my role with the Gosby House.”

Of those four, only the Gosby House Inn remains under the Four Sisters umbrella. But the group now includes 18 small boutique hotels across California, from San Diego to the Napa-Sonoma wine country.

“People began asking me about the wine country many years ago,” Shelley said. “So I drove up with my father on a field trip.”

Wine country

Maison Fleurie is one of the Four Sisters Inns group.

Spring flowers at Maison Fleurie (BG)

This was the early 1990s. They stopped in Yountville, which a few years later would gain fame as the home of The French Laundry restaurant. Shelley was impressed by the Magnolia Hotel. When the family that owned it decided to sell, the Posts made an offer. After a substantial renovation, they reopened the 13-room property as Maison Fleurie in 1992.

Other wine country properties followed. In the Napa Valley, there was Lavender (in 1999), also in Yountville, and the Milliken Creek Inn and Spa (in 2013), on the outskirts of the town of Napa.

In the Sonoma Valley, Shelley helped direct the 2002 construction of the Inn at Sonoma, a block off the town’s historic plaza. In subsequent years, Four Sisters added the tiny Healdsburg Inn, built in 1901, right on the central plaza of Healdsburg; the 19th-century Gaige House + Ryokan, which combines touches typical of a traditional Japanese inn; and the Mediterranean-style Kenwood Inn & Spa.

The Healdsburg Inn is one of the Four Sisters Inns group.

The Healdsburg Inn stands on the town’s central plaza. (BG)

Kenwood suffered substantial smoke damage during the October 2017 fires. “Fortunately, the buildings were not damaged,” Shelley said. “But the beautiful plaster absorbed the smoke, and you just can’t clean that out. It has to be replaced.” The hotel reopened in late February.

Adding properties

The Blue Lantern Inn at Dana Point was the first to draw the Posts’ interest away from Monterey and the Bay Area. The 29-room hotel opened in 1990, and it’s now one of five in Southern California, along with the Newport Beach Hotel, the 1906 Lodge in Coronado, the Channel Road Inn in Santa Monica and the Hotel Casa 425 in Claremont Village.

In the Monterey Bay area, the Green Gables Inn and Gosby House Inn, both in Pacific Grove, have now been joined by the Coachman’s Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea and the West Cliff Inn in Santa Cruz.

Along with the seven Four Sisters properties in Napa and Sonoma, two other inns are operated outside of the hotel group’s umbrella “as they don’t have the same level of service and amenities,” Shelley said. These are the Diablo Mountain Inn in Walnut Creek and the Sonoma Creek Inn in the Agua Caliente district of Sonoma.

“It’s a great little property, clean and attractive,” Shelley said of the Sonoma Creek Inn. “It’s very reasonably priced. But it doesn’t serve breakfast, and it really has no common areas.”

Lovely lodgings

Lavender, a country inn in Yountville, is one of the Four Sisters Inns.

A king bedroom in the Lavender. (BG)

In the past 14 months, we’ve had occasion to stay at three of the Four Sisters’ California wine country properties. Each one was unique, distinctive and exquisite.

Lavender, a four-building complex practically across the street from The French Laundry garden, was our most recent stop. Our fireplace room was colorful and intimate, reflecting a Provençal (southern French) mood. We entered through a private courtyard from a central garden, and took breakfast in an enclosed veranda within the original heritage home.

The Milliken Creek Inn and Spa sits on three lush acres just outside the town of Napa, near the southern end of the Silverado Trail. Private decks overlook the lazy Napa River and a waterfall terrace. A gourmet breakfast was delivered each morning to our sumptuous suite, where we had a canopy bed, a fireplace, a rain shower and other sophisticated touches. The five-star experience was capped by a visit to the guests-only Milliken Creek Spa.

At Sonoma County’s Gaige House + Ryokan, we were transported to a Zen retreat just a short walk from the village of Glen Ellen. Like a Japanese inn decorated with Asian flair, our suite had a granite soaking tub and a meditation garden. The inn also offers spa services, an outdoor swimming pool, a full breakfast and afternoon wine. The home of author-adventurer Jack London is just up the hill in Jack London State Historic Park <jacklondonpark.com>.

Changing hands

First there were four sisters. Now, there are (almost) none.

The Four Sisters Inns group include the Inn at Sonoma.

Main lobby, Inn at Sonoma (BG)

When Shelley Post and I sat down at the end of January, on the veranda at Lavender, she told me she had just finalized the sale of the Four Sisters Inns to two longtime employees, vice president (now president) Tamara Mims and chief financial officer Joni Costa.

“They are now the owners of the organization,” Shelley said. “The goal is for me to stay around for the foreseeable future, but they are taking over the organization. I’m not quite ready for retirement, but it’s always a healthy idea to plan in advance for a smooth transition.”

For many years — make that decades — Shelley has made constant rounds of the Four Sisters hotels, assuring that service, amenities, maintenance and a sophisticated and stylish personal touch are never absent. “If you don’t see the hotels, you’re less likely to take care of them,” she said.

Now she’ll be focusing her energies mainly on new projects and company strategies. And she’ll be doing so with the same spirit of excitement that launched the Four Sisters Inns more than 40 years ago.

 

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