Dancing back in time
By Jody Stump
Many of us have passed it and never noticed. Many noticed but never wandered in. This week is a great time to visit one of California’s legendary heritage spots very close to home, as Leonis Adobe hosts the Calabasas Cultural Arts Festival on Oct. 4-and the fiesta is free! Watch the old ranch house come to life with bands and classical guitars, flamenco dancers, animal petting pens and hours of arts and crafts for children.
For those who never noticed, Leonis Adobe is next door to the Sagebrush Cantina in that hometown section of Calabasas known as Old Town. Located at 23537 Calabasas Road, you get there from Malibu by popping off the 101 Freeway heading south at Parkway Calabasas and turning left for a mile or so. The Adobe is the old creamy beige clapboard house with a windmill in the front yard and a few longhorn steer and goats.
The story goes that it was first built in 1844 by a Chumash Indian family that learned the art of adobe while studying at a nearby mission. Brick-by-14-inch brick, a large single room grew to house the small group of would-be farmers on a dusty plot of about 160 acres. As fate would have it, a venturesome Frenchman wandering by fell in love with the chief’s eldest daughter, Espiritu, and with the blessings of her family, married her and settled in the house with grand ideas for his ranchito.
Miguel Leonis first had the bricks clad in clapboard on the outside and paneling on the interior walls. Then he raised the roof beams into a high peak like those in his native France and had shingles, still visible, installed as the ceiling. Porches with carved insets gave the house a Colonial feel, and to make sure Espiritu had every 19th century convenience, Leonis gave her an indoor kitchen with a real pine floor.
Espiritu’s old iron stove still stands along with all manner of original kitchen ware and furnishings built for the house-even their heavily draped nuptial bed. Vestiges of early farm life are thriving in the dusty hard-packed yard from heritage livestock to a vintage bee oven used for many decades to bake bread for the hundreds of ranch hands who worked the land.
Today, Leonis Adobe is a living museum visited every year by hundreds of schoolchildren. A healthy reminder of a California not very long past, it is open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with costumed guides happy to tell the tales and answer questions from visitors of any age. A newly published guidebook presents a fascinating picture-laden account of its history that is an excellent souvenir for children, and other pamphlets tell tales of the Adobe’s ghosts and ruffians, lovers and ladies spurned. They are available in the small, but well-stocked gift shop that is a great source for fans of California.
The upcoming fiesta, a special once-a-year treat for everyone in the family, takes place Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. More information can be obtained by calling 818.878.4242 ext. 270.