By the time California was admitted to the union in 1850, San Simeon was the third largest settlement in San Luis Obispo County behind San Luis Obispo and San Miguel. It was shown as a settlement and anchorage on the Duflot de Mofras map of 1844. By 1869 San Simeon had grown to a population of 200 people.
Sebastian’s store was originally located on the point in the little village which was home to the local whaling industry. Before 1864, the village had a marginal existence but in that year Captain Joseph Clark, a Portuguese whaler, built a substantial pier and the town became a major shipping port as well. The store itself was established by Juan Castro, son-in-law of John Wilson and ultimate owner of the northern portion of the Rancho Piedra Blanca, in 1852.
In 1878, George Hearst built a wharf at San Simeon at where boats carrying cattle, freight and passengers stopped. Store merchandise arrived by boat and was unloaded onto flat cars and taken by rail to the store. Lumber was unloaded for points as far away as Cayucos as well as materials used to build Hearst Castle and the other buildings on the Hearst estate. Mercury mined in the San Simeon and Cambria areas was shipped from this wharf and freight for the mines was unloaded here.
The store had several owners until Leopold Frankl acquired the store in 1873. As the whaling industry declined, Frankl moved the building on horse-drawn skids about one mile east to its present location. When Frankl died in 1896, the store was inherited by his nephew, Adolph Frankl. Four years later the store was acquired by the American Exploration Company which was developing quicksilver mines in the area but, when the demand for quicksilver decreased, they sold the store to Captain Lorin V. Thorndyke, Sr., head keeper at Piedras Blancas Light Station, who put his son, Lorin, Jr., in charge of it. When the captain retired from the lighthouse service in 1906 at the age of 75, he and his third wife, Margaret, moved into a small cottage behind this store. By this time there were two hotels adjacent to the store, the Bay View and the Ferrari Righetti, and the Thorndyke family was kept busy running the store and the hotels.
By 1910 the hotels were closed due to reduced steamer traffic and increasing rents being charged by Hearst and in 1914 the store was sold to Manuel Sebastian, Sr., giving it its colloquial name of “Sebastian’s Store”. It remained in the Sebastian family for nearly a century.
The building housed the San Simeon post office since 1873 and still contains a store, small restaurant owned by Abby and Brian Lucas from 2008 until early 2015 and Hearst Ranch Wine tasting facility. When Leopold Frankl owned the store, it was the only one between Cambria and Monterey on the coast so it traditionally carried a very wide variety of merchandise from candy sticks to clothing, groceries to grind stones, shoes to shot guns, drugs to diapers, liquor to liver and harnesses to harmonicas. Many of these items are still available there.
Over the decades, this store has served whalers, fishermen, ranchers, miners, Chinese kelp farmers, dairymen, lumbermen, vaqueros, lighthouse keepers and, today, campers and tourists as well as locals. It is said that William Randolph Hearst and his wife personally shopped in Sebastian’s store between 1917 and 1919 when he had a summer home at the future site of Hearst Castle. Other prominent customers included Thomas Edison, Calvin Coolidge, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill.
Note: Much of the information in this article came from a talk given by Paul E. Andrew at a meeting of the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society on September 25, 1959. The talk was reported in an article in The Cambrian on May 28, 1960.