Business at the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room and Sebastian’s café in San Simeon was hopping Monday afternoon as those businesses began their final week of operation in the historic Sebastian’s Store building, at least in its current iteration.
But for now, San Simeon postal patrons must drive to Cambria to get their mail and do other postal business, after the abrupt closure Aug. 1 of the 140-year-old post office branch in the rear of the Sebastian’s building. U.S. Postal Service officials said concerns about “public safety” related to the building’s age that triggered the sudden action.
Postal customers weren’t given any advance notice, and only learned about the shutdown when they went to get their mail or do other postal errands and saw a computer-generated letter on the closed service window.
Up to two-year remodeling project
On Monday, tourists and locals alike soaked in the old-time ambiance at Sebastian’s before property owner Hearst Corp. launches a lengthy remodeling project Aug. 12, an endeavor that could keep the State Historical Monument structure shut for 18 months to two years or more.
Work will start soon on the concept and design stages for the new but historically accurate version of the circa 1878 building, corporation representative Ben Higgins said at a related public meeting Monday.
However, there’ll be many steps in a process that will be made more complex by overlapping layers of regulation that include the state Coastal Commission, State Historical Preservation Office and requirements of the Hearst Ranch Conservation Easement.
According to Jim Saunders, co-owner of Hearst Ranch Winery, the tasting room is in the process of relocating, probably temporarily, to the historic oceanfront Hearst Warehouse building less than a block away.
While the Sebastian’s building is being renovated, upscale meals and munchies will be provided from a food truck.
The combination of wine, casual cuisine, a deep sense of history and a sweeping ocean view will provide an amazing tasting-room experience at the temporary location, Saunders said.
‘We have enjoyed Sebastian’s’
Dean Cameron, a real estate specialist with the U.S. Postal Service based in San Francisco, told about a dozen people at an information-sharing meeting on Monday that USPS decision makers opted for immediate closure after receiving a recent structural report indicating that the historic structure was “unsafe for occupancy,” and would be especially vulnerable during an earthquake or high winds.
Stephen Hearst, Hearst Corp. vice president and great grandson of the late media magnate William Randolph Hearst, said in an email interview Tuesday that he considers the USPS statement and interpretation that the space was no longer suitable for occupancy a “bit of an overreach.”
“I was just sitting there on Saturday having lunch and a glass of wine with (wife) Barbara and friends,” he said. “While the report is confidential and done for us, we gave the report its due and began the process of relocating to the warehouse as soon as we could accomplish the task.”
Hearst added, “I will miss being (at Sebastian’s) for the time it takes us to renovate and bring the building up to code. In the meantime, we will make the warehouse a great place that serves all the services that we have enjoyed at Sebastian’s.”
Earlier, he’d promised that the restored building will remain historically accurate.
“Sebastian’s will go back exactly the way it is. It’ll just be new,” he said.
Post office relocation options
While nearby diners munched on their burgers and wine tasters sipped recent vintages Monday, Cameron explained the closure decision and future options to about a dozen locals gathered around Sebastian’s outdoor picnic tables. The San Simeonites had come for a previously scheduled public meeting to learn more about the future of their tiny postal branch.
The sudden closure became the immediate topic du jour.
Cameron said that, after USPS decision makers consider public input, they could select a permanent site, a temporary site and/or install an interim cluster of boxes, any or all of which would be within the 93452 zip code.
San Simeon postal customers have 30 days to comment in writing about their preferences on where they’d like to get the mail that normally would have been delivered to the tiny branch at Sebastian’s, and might be again someday, depending on public preference and negotiations between Hearst and USPS.
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 Dean.B.Cameron@usps.gov.