Sebastian’s Store

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.

Pier built by Hearst in 1878

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.

Sebastian's Store with 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.

Manuel Sebastian, Sr., first Sebastian to own the store

The building housed the San Simeon post office since 1873 and still contains a store, small restaurant owned by Abby and Brian Lucas 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.

Sebastian's Store as it exists today

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.

5 Responses to “Sebastian’s Store”

  1. Donna says:

    Bryan,

    According to the 1910 US Census for San Simeon, the Sebastian’s were from Portugal [Australia]. Immigration Year: 1890

    Manuel Sebastien 38 (born abt 1872) He and my Grandfather John Thomas Gillis were friends and probably went to school together, as
    Grandpa was born in San Simeon in 1871.

    Mary Sebastien 35 [38]
    Anton Sebastien 16
    Annie Sebastien 14
    Mary Sebastien 12
    Amelia Sebastien 9
    Rosy Sebastien 7
    Manuel Sebastien 6
    Joe Sebastien 3
    Irene Sebastien 2

    I hope this of help for your questions.

  2. B&J says:

    Bryan:

    We’re sorry but all the information we have on the Sebastian family is contained in this article. We don’t even know of anyone who might be able to help you with this project.

    B&J

  3. Bryan says:

    I’m doing research on San Simeon for a writing project. Does anyone have any information on the Sebastian family? I’m curious about how big the family was, where they came from and what their nationality was. I’m also curious as to their relationship with Hearst.

  4. B&J says:

    Jay:

    We’re not sure exactly what you are looking for.

    When requesting a Mexican Land Grant, the requestor was required to submit a ‘diseno’, or sketch map. These are rather impressionistic! They are rather vague and are annotated in 1840s Spanish showing landmarks that may or may not have actually existed. They are available from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and the History Center of San Luis Obispo (http://historycenterslo.org/) has many of them as well. You can also find them here: http://www.slocgs.org/carpenter/LandGrants.html

    After receiving the grant, the grantor was required to have it surveyed by the Mexican government. The survey notes are available from the above two sources as well.

    After the Mexican-American war, owners of Mexican land grants were required to have them surveyed by the American government and these surveys are available from these two sources.

    Also, The San Luis County Public Library on Palm has a ‘local history room on the second floor. It’s generally locked but if you tell the librarian what you are looking for, she’ll let you in and help you. We found this book here:

    Title Insurance and Trust Co., “Delineated Mexican Land Grants”

    It has a map which shows all the rancho boundaries in California.

    Or, just look at the bottom of this site: http://www.missionsanmiguel.com/history/Lands_Padres.html

    There’s a lot of info about these grants here: http://www.slc.ca.gov/reports/grants_of_land/part_2.pdf

    B&J

  5. Jay Fickes says:

    Dear friends at
    THE CAMBRIA HISTORY EXCHANGE
    http://cambriahistory.org
    I have been very interested in San Luis Obispo historical stories. I am currently researching and looking for any map references to the old ranchos in what is now San Luis County. If you could send me in the right direction for my viewing, I would greatly appreciate it.
    Jay Fickes * 2855 See Canyon Rd. San Luis Obispo Ca. 93405 * 805-440-7863 * seecanyon@yahoo.com

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