Do you have historical landmarks in your vicinity? Do you love to visit them? Most importantly, are they near your favorite restaurant?
That last question isn’t a joke! Right next to the rustic Sagebrush Cantina, (they make a mean chicken tostada and great Margaritas) where I’ve been known to frequent with my hubby, friends and my critique partners on Calabasas Road, sits The Leonis Adobe. This ranch house and surroundings is one of 200 or more rancheros that once graced the San Fernando Valley. The entire area is deemed “El Camino Real”, the famous road that linked Spanish settlements and missions up and down the California coast.
Before the Southern Pacific Railroad connected Los Angeles to San Francisco, El Camino Real was a stop on the stage line that was operated by Flint, Bixby and Butterfield and at that time, this now upscale affluent area, had a reputation as a rough and tumble wild spot in the San Fernando Valley.
Miguel Leonis, a Basque land settler who stood six foot four inches tall, was a shrewd and powerful man who, after amassing land and great wealth, came to be known as the “King of Calabasas”. He married an Indian widow named Espiritu and through that marriage he acquired 1100 acres of her family’s land, cattle, sheep and horses. It was estimated that after his death in 1889, his possessions and wealth steeped to $300,000. It is said that he left Espiritu a mere $10,000 of his estate and she in turn, sued for her fair share, a court battle that lasted ten years. I have read reports of the house being haunted by Espiritu after her death.
For me, The Leonis Adobe, which is open to the public, is an amazing visual form of research. So often, I would go there, imagine my western stories, pick up details on daily life on the ranch and roam around the barn, visit the horses they have corralled, the birds walking free and other penned livestock. I’ve learned how the old windmills worked and how Miguel had managed to run water lines to his house for indoor plumbing. The kitchen, dining room, bedrooms and parlor of the house helped me envision the furnishings in my own stories and how a big ranch house operated.
An arbor of grapes provides entrance to the house and a small sampling of vineyards is still intact and growing next to an orchard. A 600 hundred-year-old oak tree provides backyard shade for the house and barn. I always peek inside the bathhouse that is free standing near the house and windmill and imagine my hero washing up in there. (Did I just write that?)
Discovering the Leonis Adobe was easy. I probably drive by it twice a week and it always warms my heart that this small street in Calabasas is still holding to old traditions with the Plummer House sitting on the property, moved from its original location and known as the oldest house in Hollywood, built in 1874. And the Calabasas Creek that is partially preserved in its natural state, just 100 yards from Leonis Adobe. All of this history in such a small area and backing up against the 101 Freeway, at times many forget it’s there. They sip margaritas on the outside patio at Sagebrush and watch the world go by.
That is, all but history buffs and writers. We know its there. We know the legends and often think about what life was like more than one hundred years ago at The Leonis Adobe.
What about you? Do you have historical landmarks nearby? What’s the most unforgettable landmark or historical site you’ve visited?
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