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Miguel Leonis, The Big Basque

Standing six feet four inches tall, Miguel Leonis (born in Cambo les Bains France in 1822) was one of the most fascinating figures in 19th century Los Angeles, a larger-than-life wealthy French Basque immigrant and rancho owner. Despite being illiterate, Leonis was a brilliant business man and claimed and controlled not only a large portion of the western San Fernando Valley, but also amassed thousands of acres throughout Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lake, and Ventura County, as well as a hotel and two prime city blocks in Santa Barbara.

The adobe house sits on property that Miguel Leonis claimed as part of his vast land holdings; but ultimately the parcel was deemed as public domain under the Homestead Act of 1862. To keep the land and circumvent the prevailing land laws, sometime between 1869 and 1870, he built a home—today’s Leonis Adobe in Calabasas—on the property to establish official residency and prevent homesteading claims.

Completely against Basque tradition, Leonis’s common-law wife, Espiritu Chijulla, was a Chumash Tongva Native American. Leonis began his career as a land baron by acquiring a portion of Rancho El Escorpion from Espiritu’s father, Odon, who was one of the rancho’s three original land grant recipients.

Miguel Leonis died in a wagon accident while traveling over the Cahuenga Pass in 1889. After his death, it was revealed in Leonis's will that he left the bulk of his estate, approximately $300,000 ($8,453,000 in 2020) to relatives in France. Although Native Americans had no legal rights during the period, Espiritu, his common-law wife of 30 years, took the highly unusual step of challenging the estate.

Leonis Adobe Museum Historic Home and Ranch
  1. The Leonis Adobe House
  2. Miguel Leonis, The Big Basque
  3. Espiritu Chijulla Leonis
  4. Marcelina Leonis
  5. Juan Menendez
  6. Living Room
  7. Corner Cabinets
  8. Piano
  9. Dining Room
  10. Kitchen
  11. Cellar and Pantry
  12. Upper Rear Hallway
  13. Menendez Room
  14. Espiritu's Bedroom
  15. Sewing Room
  16. Front Upstairs Veranda
  17. Outdoor Oven or Horno
  18. Oak Tree
  19. Poultry and Doves
  20. Guinea Hens
  21. Turkeys
  22. Barn and Blacksmith Shop
  23. Carriages and Buggies
  24. Miguel's Land and Property Map
  25. Bath House
  26. Laundry Area
  27. Well and Windmill
  28. Tank House and Water Tank
  29. Orsua Room
  30. Vineyard
  31. Fruit Trees
  32. Vegetable Garden
  33. Longhorn Cattle
  34. Merino Sheep
  35. Nubian and Angora Goats
  36. Percheron Draft Horses
  37. Farm Implements
  38. Wagons
  39. Outhouses
  40. The Plummer House