The Cambrian

Plans for old Sebastian’s building in San Simeon will retain originality — ‘even the smell’

It may look like nothing’s happening at the Sebastian’s General Store building in San Simeon, which closed abruptly in early August. But there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, as Stephen Hearst and the Hearst Corp. prepare to bring the historic structure into the 21st century while continuing to honor the past.

The first phase of that process — planning the complex restoration — likely will cost in the range of $100,000. That’s how much the corporation budgeted recently to spend in 2020 on the preliminary work, according to Hearst, a vice president of the corporation, general manager of its Western properties and a great grandson of the late media magnate W. R. Hearst.

“That planning will dictate the cost and timing of the renovation,” Hearst said Oct. 19.

Emergency closing due to safety

The emergency closure of the circa 1852 building was based on an engineer’s safety study. Apparently, the building had severe structural challenges, including the roof, aging wood floor and having been built on piers rather than a foundation.

So, the tiny San Simeon post office branch closed almost immediately after receiving the report; it had been in the Sebastian’s building for decades.

Hearst said he hopes the post office will return to the building. “I think it belongs there,” he said.

The restaurant, operated since 2014 by McPhee’s in Templeton, also closed.

The Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room moved catty-corner across the street to another historic building, an oceanfront Hearst Corp. warehouse that had been used in recent years as a venue for occasional special events, primarily so nonprofit groups could host special fundraising events in the dramatic but rustic setting.

Hearst said the winery’s business is booming there, as people taste the wines, dine on food from an upscale food truck, shop for attire and more and meander out to picnic tables where they linger to soak up the ambiance, including a jaw-dropping view of San Simeon Point, San Simeon Bay and beyond.

Restoration will aim for authenticity

Restoring a historic building is never a quick or inexpensive process, as an owner tries to meld modern building codes and safety requirements with the desire to honor antiquity.

Hearst began that process some time ago, when the corporation hired the engineer to evaluate the property.

Meanwhile, Hearst’s vision for the building’s future is based on his memories of its past, of being a child pushing through the front door and seeing a general store stocked with everything from cooking ingredients to fishing supplies, hardware-store items and the ubiquitous meat counter.

“I actually loved Sebastian’s as a general store,” Hearst recalled. “You’d walk up to the butcher shop and buy steaks from Pete Sebastian. You could get any kind of souvenir there, and anything from a galvanized bucket and push broom to dried food items, tackle and suntan lotion.”

He added: “I’ll push everybody to keep it as close to the current experience as humanly possible, even the smell.”

He believes the floor contributes that aroma of history, so he’ll ask the contractor to pull up and save the old boards, and reinstall them after the foundation and subfloor are put in.

He said he won’t even let the crew sand the boards smooth.

“The floor still will be bumpy. I want it to be as much like it is now as possible.”

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