Leonis Adobe, California

Leonis Adobe

Description and Era:
-The original portion of the house was built in 1844. Miguel Leonis extensively enlarged and remodeled it in 1880.

– The site of Calabasas was once inhabited by the Gabrielino Indians.

– In 1795 Franciscan priests from the Mission San Buenaventura traveled across California looking for a site for a mission complex. This trail famously became known as El Camino Real. It is commemorated by a series of mission bell markers, one of which is hung on the front of the Leonis Adobe.
-The area became known as Calabasas in 1824 and quickly gained the reputation of being one of the toughest and wildest spots in the old west. – Miguel Leonis is a legendary historical figure in Californian history. He was one of the early land settlers and pioneers of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. He was born on October 20th 1824 in Cambo les Baines in the Basque Province of the French Pyrenees where smuggling across the French/Spanish border was almost a way of life. The Leonis family were wealthy and well respected so when he became involved in smuggling he was compelled to leave the country at his father’s request.
– He arrived in Los Angeles in 1858 and began working for Joaquin Romero who owned half of Rancho El Escorpion (The other half was owned by three Chumash Indians, Odon, whose daughter Leonis later married, and his two brothers Urbano and Manuel). He was quickly promoted to ranch manager and as Romero’s drinking worsened Leonis managed to persuade him to sell him his half of the ranch in 1861 for $100 including all cattle and sheep.
– Leonis became known as ‘El Basquo Grande’, ‘The King of Calabasas’, he was 6’4 with piercing green eyes, was known by his great physical strength and was feared and despised by many. Even though he spoke little Spanish or English he managed to acquire a small empire of land and livestock, until at his death in 1889 his estate was valued at over $300,000.
– He married an Indian widow, Espiritu Chijulla (or Maria de Santo Cheboya). Through this he handily came into possession of cattle, sheep and horses and 1100 acres of land (the other half of the El Escorpion Ranch) belonging to her family. They were married by contractual agreement. She had a son from her first marriage named Juan.
– Leonis often treated Espiritu poorly and wouldn’t even let her son Juan into the house.
– In 1860 they had a child of their own, Marcellina (named after Espiritu’s aunt) who later died aged 20 from smallpox. Miguel loved Marcellina dearly and always ensured she had the best of everything. After her death in 1880 he was so distraught that Miguel Leonis attempted suicide by attaching a noose from a tree and trying to get his horse to gallop away but the horse wouldn’t budge and saved his life.
– He was well known and respected as a shrewd businessman and took advantage of California’s homestead laws by claiming possession of land in the public domain, grazing his cattle there, building a crude shack on it and dispatching one of his employees to live there as a tenant. He amassed thousands of acres by doing this.
– He also guarded his land with an armed band of Mexicans and Indians and any would be settlers would be shot on the spot or hauled into Los Angeles to Jail and charged with trespassing and stealing. Leonis would then freely dispense drink and food to the judge and jury (in the last 15 years of his life he had over 30 court cases).
– After Marcellina died Miguel had no direct descendant to take over his ranch so he sent for his nephew from France. J.B. Leonis became his accountant but had no desire to take over the ranch
– In 1889 Leonis was killed when his wagon overturned in Cahuenga Pass (the area that is now Universal Studios) following a celebration after winning one of his lawsuits. The coroner’s inquest says he died of Peritonitis three days after the accident. Some suggest it may have been murder but his body was exhumed in 1930 (along with Marcellina’s to be moved to the family plot in Los Angeles) and although there were no bone fractures or obvious signs of trauma to his head and body marks on his upper abdomen are consistent with a Wagon Wheel.
– At the time of his death his estate was valued at $300,000 but he left only a tiny amount to Espiritu. In his will he referred to her as a housekeeper and that she wasn’t entitled to his inheritance. Although there wasn’t proof of a legal marriage between the two of them they lived together for 30 years and had a daughter together. She went to court and eventually won her claim of one half of the estate.
– Espiritu lived in the Adobe until she died in 1909. After Leonis’ death her son Juan and his wife Juana lived at the house. They adopted several children, one, in 1894, was 6 year old Maria Johnson. She lived at the adobe until she was 16 and married Pedro Orsua (see hauntings ‘Chichita’ Story).
– Maria Orsua moved back to the adobe and nursed her adopted Grandmother Espiritu as she was dying. At this time she lived in one room at the Adobe with her husband and 18 children. Three of these children were born in the room at the Adobe.
– Juan Menendez sold the Adobe in 1922 to Lester and Frances Agoure. Juan then died in 1924.
– In 1931 the Agoures lost the Adobe through foreclosure and it was later opened as a restaurant.
– After that it was used as a retirement home and then fell into a state of disrepair.
– On March 28th 1963 Mrs Catherine S. Beachy bought the adobe and began the renovations.
– On May 29th 1975 the Leonis Adobe was entered on the National Register of Historical Places.
Ghost ratings and Spooky experience:
– Unexplained noises are heard throughout the building.
– Sounds of footsteps are heard on the upper floor and the staircase.
– Previous owners have claimed that they were sure the place was haunted by Miguel Leonis.
-Other visitors have heard loud, unexplained banging noises.
– In the 1930’s a family called the Greggs owned the house. One night Mrs Gregg was leaning on the second floor veranda and the rail cracked and was just about to give way when a pair of strong hands pulled her back. When she turned around there was no-one there.
– Sounds of digging are heard outside the house.
– A guest at the house said they saw a figure at the top of the stairs and it was saying ‘Chichita, Chichita’ this is the nickname Espiritu gave her granddaughter Maria Orsua.
– A male figure resembling Miguel Leonis has been seen at the front door of the house.
– In the room that used to belong to Espiritu, an apparition of a woman has been seen standing by the chest with her clothes in. Odd identations appear in the bed and this spirit takes a strong dislike to men visiting the room.
– An actor was performing a monologue in here for a film that was being shot at the property. On each take the sound recordist complained of loud knocking though no one in the room was making the noise.


 First Broadcast: 27th September 2005

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