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3-HOUR TOUR

Walk in the Past : Old Calabasas is a low-key, Old West experience--including historic buildings, shops and eateries.

April 23, 1993|DAVID S. BARRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; David S. Barry is a regular contributor to Valley Life.

Old Calabasas is a town with a bad reputation, and proud of it. In the late 1800s, when Los Angeles was already growing fast, Calabasas was a stagecoach stop on the route to Santa Barbara and points north.

Calabasas was the domain of Miguel Leonis, a Basque immigrant turned land magnate who ruled by gun, muscle and guile. The settlement had saloons, dance halls and a history of local justice dispensed by a hanging tree.

Now a small, architecturally protected sector of the city designated as Old Calabasas offers a low-key, Old West experience.

1 to 2 p.m.: Begin from either the Parkway Calabasas exit or the Valley Circle Boulevard exit off the Ventura Freeway and go south to Calabasas Road, which will take you through a short stretch of shops and businesses in Old West styles.

Synchronize your visit with the schedule of the Leonis Adobe Museum, which is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is free, although donations are encouraged.

A national historic monument that was saved from destruction (a shopping plaza was planned) in the early 1960s, the two-story 1844 Monterey-style mansion has been meticulously restored as a working 19th-Century California ranch.

The grounds contain vineyards, an orchard, garden, grape arbors, windmill, water tank and outbuildings that are more than museum pieces--they house a pair of resident 2,000-pound Texas longhorn steers, two horses and assorted fowl.

The mansion contains restored wall coverings, furnishings, floor and ceiling finishes, photographs, costumes and tools, all from the 19th Century.

Sharing the property is the Plummer House, moved in 1983 from Plummer Park in Hollywood, where it had stood for more than 100 years. Now also restored, it serves as the visitors center for the Leonis Adobe.

2 to 2:30 p.m.: A short walk east on Calabasas Road takes you past a gift shop and a flower shop to One Calabasas Junction, a shopping complex in an Old West-style building. Inside you will find a shop called Antiques And . . . , the Calabasas Hair Saloon, K. S. Jewelers, Yuly's Custom Dressmaking (dresses handmade by Yuly) and Gaetano's Ristorante.

Gaetano's is an airy, high-ceilinged restaurant with a quiet atmosphere, tiled floors and ficus trees, styled after a country Italian restaurant. Its menu is northern Italian. Prices range from dinner pasta for $9.95 to chopped veal for $22.95.

2:30 to 3 p.m.: Cross Calabasas Creek. And tell your friends later that you have journeyed to the headwaters of the Los Angeles River--it's the truth. Next, on the eastern border of Old Calabasas, is Old Town Junction, a sprawling complex built around a two-story bakery that stood in downtown Los Angeles until 1904, when it was dismantled, shipped by train and reassembled in Canoga Park, where it was operated as a grocery store.

In 1907, it was moved to its present location, where it continued as a grocery until the 1960s. Now it has been restored with 19th-Century wood, fixtures and photographs to house an antiques and gift emporium.

Browse through airy rooms where more than 50 vendors offer antiques and gifts such as old silver jewelry, pine and oak furniture, porcelain, old-fashioned bird houses, artwork, Indian jewelry, glass decanters, Western hats and shirts, and other items.

Behind the junction is Savannah, a small place with slow-turning ceiling fans and unfinished wood furniture for a comfortable, unaffected country atmosphere. Savannah offers sandwiches, salads, gourmet coffee, fresh-baked bread and fresh pastry. The sandwich menu features chutney turkey on olive bread for $5.95, with a choice of salads that include tabouli , an olive and crab pasta, and what the restaurant calls French potato (cold new potatoes garnished with herbs).

3 to 4 p.m.: Across Calabasas Road is the Sagebrush Cantina, a huge, barn-like structure with a large outside patio. In all, 1,000 people can be accommodated. The "hanging tree" once stood in what is now the Cantina parking lot.

A huge restaurant inside has sawdust on the floor, murals of old Mexico on the walls and fans on the ceiling. There are also booths, tables, TV monitors for sports viewing and a bar in the center with a wide range of beers.

The Sagebrush Cantina's extensive menu includes live lobster, shrimp scampi at $16.95, Cajun chicken tacos at $8.95 and a plain hamburger at $5.95. Also available are jumbo shrimp cocktail appetizers, taquitos , and beef or chicken teriyaki.

Sunday is the big day at the Sagebrush Cantina. A Sunday brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. offers fresh-shucked clams and oysters, crab legs and caviar, bagels and lox, roast beef, pork ribs and continuous champagne. A salad bar and a fresh Belgian waffle bar also operate. The brunch is $19.95, and reservations are suggested.

Live music can be heard all day Sunday, starting with mariachis, then jazz, then rock 'n' roll, until 11 p.m. or midnight. According to the staff, the Sagebrush Cantina on Sundays is likely to be rowdy--the way Calabasas used to be.

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