Calabasas & Hidden Hills History

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Calabasas was the site of one of the two hundred or more Indian rancherias villages that once dotted the San Fernando Valley. Ventura Boulevard was originally "El Camino Real," and linked the Spanish settlementsand missions up and down California, and now continues as Calabasas Road.  In front of the Adobe hangs one of the now-rare mission bells that were placed along "El Camino Real."

Before the Southern Pacific Railroad connected Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1876, Calabasas was a stop on the coastal stage line that was operated by Flint, Bixby and Butterfield. At that time, and until the turn of the century,Calabasas had a reputation as one of the toughest and wildest spots in California. A dance hall and a saloon stood on the south side of the Calabasas jail, which was made of heavy timbers spiked together.  Alongside the jail grew the famous Calabasas hangman’s tree. This oak that grew beside the former Kramer store was also, according to old timers, used for quick frontier justice.

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Acorns from the massive old oak trees that thrive in the area formed an important part of their diet. Some of the oaks in Calabasas may be 500-700 years-old today.

Spanish expeditions in the 1700's forever changed the Indians’ way of life. The Diary of Miguel Costanso, which documents the Portola expeditions in 1769-1770, refers to encounters with the Chumash in the area. Six years later, the Juan de Anza party camped just west of Calabasas.

El Scorpion, or El Escorpion, a ranch that once occupied a large tract in the west Valley, was granted to three Indians in Calabasas in the 1830's. About 25 years later, Miguel Leonis, the Basque "King of Calabasas" acquired the ranch and 1100 acres by his marriage to Espiritu, an Indian who had inherited the property from her father.

Leonis was often in trouble with the law, hiring gunmen to expand his lands, bribing witnesses and threatening nearby settlers. He was killed in 1889 when he fell from his wagon after removing a band of squatters from his property. Squatter wars and gun fights were a bloody part of Calabasas history. "Inhabitants killed each other off so steadily that a human face is a rarity," wrote Horace Bell in his book on the old west coast.

When large ranches were divided into farms in the late 1800's, families of settlers struggled against poverty and drought. In her book, "Calabasas Girls," Catherine Mulholland brings the era to life with photographs and letters of her ancestors, the Ijams. When water and power came to Owensmouth (Canoga Park), they were happy to leave the difficult life of Calabasas pioneers.

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After the turn of the century, several select spots in the Calabasas area developed into weekend respites from the city. Crater Camp in Monte Nido was opened in 1914 as a year-round picnic ground. There are few reminders of the camp today on the site of Malibu Meadows.

The Stunt family developed a homestead on the north slope of Saddle Peak, also in the Monte Nido area. One favorite spot for filming motion pictures, the scenery was ideal for Hollywood. Scenes from such films as Tarzan, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Stalag 17 were shot in this area, today known as Malibu Creek State Park. Circa 1863, an adobe which was built near the park by a settler named Sepulveda for his wife and 12 children, is now in the process of restoration.

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Downtown Calabasas, Circa 1915

On the north side of Calabasas Road is L.A. Historical Cultural Monument Number One, the Leonis Adobe. When Leonis renovated it in the 1870's, he enlarged it extensively and remodeled it into a Monterey-style house. He and Espiritu made it their home. The recent history of the adobe is one of struggles to save both it and its grounds from destruction. In the 1960's, the threat of razing the adobe to build a supermarket led Kathleen Beachy to purchase the property. Toady, it is a superb monument to a bygone era, with meticulously maintained furnishings and grounds, and serves as an anchor for Old Town Calabasas.

Around 1983, the Plummer House, once the oldest home in West Hollywood, was moved next to the Leonis property. As a young boy, Senor Plummer had visited his neighbors in the Leonis Adobe. The building has been beautifully restored and both the adobe and Plummer House are open for tours.

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What is now the Sagebrush Cantina was originally a group of small stores built by Lester Agoure, Sr. in the early 1920's. The parking lot once was the local jail.  Outside was the famous hanging tree, dead, but still standing today. It is the identifying logo of the Calabasas Chamber of Commerce.

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Lack of water in the Calabasas area was always a major concern. With the founding of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in 1958, a water supply was assured, and the area began its development boom.

The first subdivision in Calabasas, called Park Moderne (in Mulwood near Calabasas High School), was a retreat for artists, craftsmen, and writers. It was built on land traded off as part of Sam Cooper Jr.’s homestead in 1928.

The first Calabasas high school was built in 1880 on the south side of Calabasas Road. A second school, built on the same site in 1924-1925, was a one-teacher school for the area until 1948, when it joined with Liberty, Cornell, and Las Virgenes to form the Las Virgenes Unified School District. The former Pelican’s Retreat retains a small portion of the second school building.

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The next building, walking west, is a rebuilt replica of a garage built in 1921 and owned by the Daic brothers. Operated by Joseph, Charles, and Al Daic, descendants of homesteaders, it was originally a two-pump station. It became a popular movie back in the early 1980's. The Daic brothers built a smaller building next door to the garage, where Gaetano’s is now located. A Touch of Class was the residence of Theresa Thilmony, an early beloved school teacher. The Leonis Plaza was at one time the site of many small buildings constructed in the 1920's. They were shops for artisans, and one was the home of the Las Virgenes Enterprise. This had formerly been a blacksmith shop belonging to Juan Menendez, the son of Espiritu.

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A walk on Calabasas Road in the historic Old Town, takes one past several old buildings. The first, west of the Motion Picture Home, was originally a two-story pioneer store and dwelling owned by Charles and Alice Cooper. Called "Hunter’s Inn," it provided rooms for hunters and travelers. After Charles died, his widow married Lawrence Kramer and together they operated a store until his retiring in 1968.

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Circa 1900 photograph of an old time camp outfit near Ventura Boulevard 
and Valley Circle Boulevard. Leonis Adobe is in the background. 
On the El Camino Real sign it says, "83.9 Santa Barbara,
 18 Newberry Park, 47.9 Ventura, Los Angeles 26.1, Encino 8,
 Hollywood 19.6, San Fernando Mission 14. 
The El Camino Real bells were placed along the mission routes. 

Calabasas Timeline

Pre-History
Calabasas is an 
Indian  "rancheria" (settlement)
.

 

 

 

 

 

February 22, 1776 
The DeAnza expedition stops near the creek. (first to visit this area).

 

 

August  18, 1785
The word "Calabasas" first appears in the San Fernando Mission  records.

 
San Fernando Mission

 

 

1844-46
The building later known as the Leonis Adobe is built.  Builder unknown.

 

 

 

 

1846 
Settlers form California Republic.

 

 

1848
War with Mexico ends. California ceded to the U.S..

Gold Discovered in California.

 
Sutter's Mill

 

 

 

1850
California becomes 31st state.

 

 

1880
Miguel Leonis and Native- 
American wife Espiritu 
move to the Leonis Adobe.


            
Los Angeles 1880

 

 



Trolley which ran from L.A to the        
San Fernando Valley Circa 1886           

 

 

 

 

 

1889
Miguel Leonis Dies

 

 

April  10, 1906 
Espiritu Leonis dies, leaving the ranch to her son, Juan Menendez, who gradually sells portions of the ranch.

 

 

 

 

1921
Juan Menendez loses the last portion of the ranch to Martin Agoure (after whom the town of Agoura is named).

 

 

Mid-1920s
Local area is bought by a Mr. Hutchinson.  He builds a house, gas station, and operates a nursery - planting palms, pines, etc.


Los Angeles City Hall, Built 1928

 

 

 

 

1962
The Leonis Adobe is classified by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board as Historical Monument #1.


Calabasis Commerercial District - Circa 1962

 

 

 

1963
The Leonis Adobe Association was formed to save the Adobe.  Because they were unable to raise sufficient funds, Mrs. Kathleen Beachy bought the property and deeded it to the newly-formed Association.  Gradually she bought up other property in Old Town Calabasas.

May 21, 1966 
Leonis Adobe is formally opened to the public. An official plack presented by the Cultural Heritage Board is unveiled at a ceremony attended by the Los Angeles Mayor Samuel Yorty, Los Angeles Supervisor Warren Dorn and Los Angeles City Councilman 
Thomas Shepherd.

 

May 29, 1975
Leonis Adobe is entered on the
National Register of 
Historical Places. 

 

 

1982 
The Leonis Adobe Association receives the property deeded to it after Mrs. Beachy's death.

 

 

 

1992
Calabasas Farmers
Market opened.

 

 

January 17th, 1994
Earthquake strikes Los Angeles area.  Adobe must be closed for repairs.

 

 

 

 

May 13th, 1995
Adobe reopened,
Calabasas Creek Park dedicated....

 

 





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