What’s next for old Sebastian’s store in San Simeon? Remodeling plans show vision for site

It’s sort of a Thanksgiving gift to people who care about the future of Sebastian’s General Store in Old San Simeon Village.

Hearst Corp. is one step closer to upgrading the small, significant structure while also returning it to its hale, hearty and historic past.

Sebastian family heirs sold the store and the land on which it sits to the corporation in 2009.

On Nov. 18, Schani Siong, senior county planner on the project, told members of the North Coast Advisory Council that the corporation has submitted its initial restoration plans to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Department. She said the council and the public will have a chance to review those plans once the county deems them to be complete.

Hearst officials shuttered the building in August 2019 after an engineer’s safety study reported that the structure wasn’t safe to occupy, in part because it was built with no foundation under it.

That’s just one of the things the retrofit and restoration project will correct, according to Ben Higgins, Hearst Corp. director of agricultural operations, which includes management of 128-square-mile Hearst Ranch in San Simeon and the 73,000-acre Jack Ranch in Cholame.

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.

In phone and email interviews, Higgins said, “We have, at long last, made our initial submission to the county” about the project.

The delay between closure and plan submission was due to “the many layers” involved in developing those plans, he said including “historical design reviews by the state. It’s an important component, because we absolutely want to retain the historic look and feel of this building for many decades to come.”

Higgins said that, in layman’s terms, the “core and shell” project will include “replacing or upgrading all of the structural elements of the building, the most primary of which is the foundation.”

Accomplishing that will require “elevating or jacking up the building and pouring a foundation underneath,” he said, while concurrently “upgrading the utilities — water, sewer and electric,” among others.

The project also will include renovations to the historic building’s exterior.

“Hopefully,” Higgins said, “those changes will be almost unnoticeable,” not only because that’s what Hearst heir Stephen Hearst and the corporation want, but also because it’s what the state requires of work on a historical landmark.

The old outbuildings — a tiny restroom and separate storage building — “will be demolished and replaced,” Higgins said. “The restroom will be inside, where the post office used to be.”

About a week before Hearst closed Sebastian’s, the U.S. Postal Service pulled its branch operations out of the building, citing safety issues. That facility relocated in late September to the Plaza del Cavalier a few miles farther south in San Simeon’s Highway 1 commercial strip.

During the closure, the Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room relocated 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 special events such as fundraisers for nonprofit groups.

Predicting a timeline for the restoration project is tricky, Higgins said, because it still involves county plan review and other possible hitches.

He estimates that, pending county approval, reconstruction of Sebastian’s General Store might start in the second quarter of 2021.

That will be followed, he said, by “corresponding upgrades to the interior,” perhaps also in 2021, after the design is created and work completed, plus selecting a proprietor for what Higgins envisions as a “high-end delicatessen and general store, keeping in the spirit of what the building was and has always been.”

Reopening might happen, he said, “in late 2021 or early 2022.”

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