The Cambrian

Hearst winery tasting room, post office moving as historic San Simeon building renovated

Some changes are coming to a historic building in Old San Simeon Village in mid-August.

Sebastian’s building, owned by the Hearst Corp. since 2009, will undergo a total renovation, resulting in the relocation of the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room and the tiny town’s 140-year-old U.S. Postal Service branch.

The tasting room’s relocation is expected to be temporary, but it’s not yet known where the Postal Service branch will land permanently. The lease on the branch will expire on Jan. 31, 2020, according to a letter sent recently to postal patrons.

In the meantime, the Postal Service may set up a temporary branch in a trailer in the Sebastian’s parking lot, according to Jim Saunders, owner/partner/vintner of Hearst Ranch Winery.

Sebastian’s Historical Monument

The circa 1878 building needs repairs and updating, according to Stephen Hearst, vice president of the Hearst Corp.

Plans and the work schedule are still being drafted, he said, but “ultimately, the building should be completely updated, with roofing, plumbing, foundation, piping, electrical” and more, Hearst said. “The roof has got some sagging in it, the building doesn’t really have a complete foundation.”

And there are other issues that will be addressed in the project, he said.

“If we’re going to get into it, we may as well do it completely,” he said. “That way, we won’t have to do it again anytime soon.”

However, Hearst pledged, Sebastian’s will remain historically accurate.

“Sebastian’s will go back exactly the way it is. It’ll just be new,” he said. “I wouldn’t have bought it because I wanted it to go away. I have a real love for the building, fond memories that go back to the late 1950s and early 1960s.”

Hearst Ranch Winery

One of the trickiest parts of the relocation is moving the tasting room, which will operate temporarily out of the Hearst warehouse less than a block away.

“Hopefully, the move will be seamless, and we won’t be closed at all. We’ve already started prepping for it,” Saunders said, “and it’s been a real zoo, trying to figure out what we can do.”

But the positive aspect is “our wine-club members and other people will get to see how beautiful it is there” at the warehouse, especially the jaw-dropping ocean view.

The warehouse has been the venue for various special events in recent years. The rustic building is one of several large oceanfront structures that served as holding areas for the treasures that ships brought in for William Randolph Hearst’s La Casa Encantada (now Hearst Castle State Historical Monument). Hearst died in 1951, and many of the “extra” treasures he’d stored in the warehouses were auctioned off.

Saunders said an emergency modification of the county permit to use the main warehouse for special events now allows the winery to use the facility as a tasting room. Food service will be handled out of a food truck providing “unbelievable cuisine,” Saunders said, from calamari to Honduran pork sandwiches and “seafood, seafood and more seafood.”

When the renovation project is complete, the tasting room and café service will return to the Sebastian’s building, he said, but it’s not known yet who will wear the chef’s toque and lead the food operation there.

Sebastian’s history

In 1865, successful miner George Hearst bought the 40,000-acre Piedra Blanca Ranch in San Simeon, two years after his son, W.R. Hearst was born.

According to reports from the Cambria Historical Society’s archives, Sebastian’s began in 1873 as a general store, livery stable and post office.

When business-owner Leopold Frankl expanded the business in 1878, he bought an abandoned store on San Simeon Point, and moved it on skids by ox team to be joined to his store.

The newly elevated front porch allowed easier loading and unloading of freight from wagons, needed because San Simeon was a busy shipping port for the whaling, mercury mining and dairying industries. In 1880, the town had 14 houses, a school, two merchandise stores, two hotels, two saloons, the livery, a blacksmith shop and butcher shop.

After several business changes and sales, Captain L.V. Thorndyke, keeper of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, purchased the store in 1904.

His son, Loren Thorndyke, operated the shop until he sold it to Manuel and Mary Sebastian in May 1914. He ran the store until 1948, when he retired and sold it to one of his sons, J.C. “Pete” Sebastian. When he died in 1988 at the age of 81, ownership passed to his daughter Mary Sebastian (Hansen), who sold it to Hearst Corp. in 2009.

To get public input about where postal patrons want to get their mail and stamps locally, the Postal Service has set a public meeting at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5, in picnic-table area of the Sebastian’s building, 444 SLO San Simeon Road, San Simeon.

Written comments can be sent until Sept. 5 to Dean Cameron, Leasing/Real Estate Specialist, 1300 Evans Ave., Suite 200, San Francisco, 94188-8200, or email to

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