Indians, explorers, squatters, and bandits are all part of Calabasas history. The Chumash Indians led a peaceful life amidst the rolling hills, making their homes in canyons where streams and springs ensured a plentiful supply of wildlife. 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. Settlements of Chumash Indians named the area Calabasas, a word perhaps descended from the Indian word for "where the wild geese fly." Others think Calabasas comes from the Spanish word for pumpkin or wild gourd. 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.
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. A 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.
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.
In 1950 A.E. Hanson began his development of Hidden Hills which was originally comprised of 1,004 acres. Ever wonder where the street names came from? Long Valley and Round Meadow because that's what they looked like — a long valley which turned into a round meadow. Lasher Road was named because the Lasher family home was on that road. One field was covered with six-foot-high mustard and was a gathering place for red-winged blackbirds, thus Wingfield Road. According to A.E. Hanson, his children read books about early Western American explorers and trappers, so the roads in the Round Meadow area were named for these trailblazers, in hopes that future generations of children in Hidden Hills would become interested in the history of the American West.
By 1957, the cost of a three- or four-bedroom home on a one-acre site was $27,500 – $47,500. One to five acre homesites were selling for $7,950 – $12,500.
In the spring of 1961, civic leaders in the tiny community of Hidden Hills launched a drive to form a city. They were faced with the prospect of being annexed to the City of Los Angeles and having Burbank Boulevard extended through the community. The petition for incorporation was signed by 79% of the voters, and in spite of the fact that the Los Angeles City Council's Planning Committee opposed the incorporation, it was approved by the Board of Supervisors. September 19, 1961 was designated as election day, when a total of 358 votes were cast for incorporation, with 71 votes against. The area of the new city was approximately 1.3 square miles, with a population of a little over 1,000 and an assessed valuation of $2,681,910. On October 19, 1961, Hidden Hills became the 73rd city in the County.
The first Fiesta was held on October 20, 1962, to celebrate the first anniversary of the City's incorporation on October 19, 1961. Monte Montana, Jr. was the first Grand Marshal of the parade that started at noon on the corner of Long Valley and Oakfield. Other activities included a horse show, with a roping exhibition by Monte Montana, a barbecue dinner, and a teen dance and entertainment, recruited from local talent. The annual Fiesta celebration has continued over the years, growing into a huge party and gathering of neighbors honoring the birth of this unique little city.
Today, the City of Hidden Hills has approximately 650 homes and is just under two square miles in area with a population of nearly 2,000 residents.