The man even HEARST
couldn’t buy.

                  by: Billy D. Edson


Hearst1 (71K)

When William Randolph Hearst gazed out the windows of the second-story suite of La Casa Grande, his opulent mansion high on a bill overlooking San Simeon, he was master of all he surveyed — almost.


The ranch he inherited from his father, U.S. Sen. George Hearst, once encompassed 240,000 acres and included 50 miles of coastline in San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties. It was said W.R. Hearst’s empire stretched as far as the eye could see. Yet, in all this vast realm, there remained one small parcel of land forever denied the newspaper baron and motion picture mogul, despite his determined efforts to acquire it: The site of Sebastian’s Store.


And there is no question Manuel Sebastian demonstrated remarkable fortitude in resisting Hearst’s tact and lavish offers. The store was established in 1852 at the height of San Simeon’s thriving whaling industry. In 1878, as the sun was setting on whaling along the California coast, the store, owned at the time by Leopold Frankl, was packed onto a team-drawn sledge and moved to its present location, next to a grove of tall eucalyptus trees planted by Sen. Hearst to provide wood for maintaining a supply pier that stretched 1,000 feet from the shore.


When Sebastian purchased the store in 1914, he was there to stay. Although the store isn’t large by today’s standards, few businesses have boasted such a diverse clientele as that described in historical accounts. This included whalers, fishermen, miners, ranchers, cowboys, politicians, movie stars and well-known personalities such as Thomas A. Edison, Calvin Coolidge and Winston Churchill. Paul Andrew of the San Luis Obispo Historical Society once said of Sebastian’s Store, “Few retail store buildings with such a limited floor space have carried so great a variety of items. “The articles which have herein been sold have covered the entire range of the physical needs of the pioneer ... (the) gamut running from candy sticks to clothing, groceries to grind stones, shoes to shotguns, drugs to diapers, liquor to liver and harness to harmonicas.~~


The store also housed the first San Simeon post office until 1915, when the station was moved onto the near-by pier. In 1945, it was relocated to Sebastian’s Store, where it remains today. By 1919, the land surrounding the store started taking on a new face. That is when William R. Hearst undertook his spectacular enterprise on the stately La Cuesta Encantada, .“the enchanted hill.” As work progressed on what is known today as “Hearst Castle”, almost every side of Sebastian’s parcel was enclosed by ranch structures. Across the road, Hearst built a schoolhouse. Two gigantic warehouses were erected nearby to contain many Hearst art treasures acquired from around the world. And abundant treasures there were. It has been estimated Hearst spent $1 million a year for 50 years in his collecting enterprises. But he couldn’t buy Sebastian’s Store. After having several “overly generous offers” turned down by the redoubtable Manuel Sebastian, the story goes, Hearst signed a blank check and, handing it over, told Sebastian to fill in any amount he wished. Sebastian thanked him, but replied, “W.R., it’s not right for a man to get everything he wants.


So, the store remained in the family. Sebastian’s heirs owned and operated the store for more than half a century. On May 29, 1960, the store was dedicated as California Registered Historical Landmark No. 726. Members of another family operate the store today, in the same manner as did the Sebastians. They have done nothing to alter its ambiance. or its size.

         

Billy Edson is a free-lance writer

based in San Diego. California


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