The Starlight Inn was built in 1898 on three acres in the California coastal foothill community of Santa Barista. Honey’s and Willow’s grandparents, Edythe and Harold Johnson, built it as a boarding house for people seeking a healthy climate change and opportunity for outdoor exercise.
A severe case of the Swine Flu in 1918, had a damaging effect on Harold’s health. He died of a heart attack in 1921 at age 48, leaving Edythe with twin 12-year-old sons, James and William, and a 6-year-old daughter, Abigail.
Edythe struggled financially trying to keep the family together, but finally decided it was best to send the boys to live with her sister Harriet and brother-in-law George in Kansas.
To her surprise, Edythe discovered that having grape vines and apple trees during Prohibition offered some help financially. The Starlight Inn gained a quiet reputation for the fermentative properties of its grape juice and apple juice.
As the Great Depression took hold, the Starlight Inn became an evening gathering place for those seeking refuge from their daytime struggles with pending financial loss. Edythe was a skilled cook, who could fill a room with the rich aroma of simple wholesome foods and the Starlight Inn also offered the companionship of young women who had come to Santa Barista seeking work and found the Starlight Inn a pleasant and inexpensive place to live. Some of the young women helped to pay the rent by working at the Inn.
As a child, Abbie worked alongside her mother in the garden and kitchen. As she matured, she became the downstairs hostess, greeting community visitors and out-of-town guests.
World War II bought an influx of new guests. The Santa Barista harbor provided an opportunity for sailors leave their ships and spend some off-duty time in this beautiful little town. The Starlight Inn became well-known for it’s hospitality.
Edythe died in 1955 at age 79. By that time Absinthe (Abbie’s new more formal name) was fully in charge of the Inn and very active in the community of Santa Barista. While some community members did not embrace the range of hospitality offered at the inn, they all respected Absinthe for her charitable contributions to the community, her exquisite cooking skills, and her discretion.
In 1961, Absinthe decided to convert the inn to a traditional bed and breakfast. The rooms, which had been permanent residences, were vacated and remodeled to reflect their Victorian heritage. The downstairs became the reception area and a café for locals as well as guests. The cottages on the property were used by employees such as our handyman and gardener.
Honey and Willow were born three years later, in 1964. When Absinthe died in 1998, they assumed joint ownership of the Starlight Inn and Café.