The Hull History
(or a good portion thereof, as told by Wally)
Hidden Hills…an idyllic name for a superlative enclave of grand residences that belies its humble origins, rich with the pioneering spirit of the Old West. Longtime resident Wallace (“Wally”) Hull descends from the original homesteading families of Calabasas from the 1800’s, and shares some of the colorful stories of the area’s past, along with his own personal experience raising a family in this bucolic neighborhood for over 60 years.
In 1862, the United States government passed the Homestead Act, which granted a free 160 acre farm to anyone who could occupy and improve it for five years. Wally’s antecedents were among the plucky and hopeful groups of settlers arriving from the East Coast and Europe—often by way of San Francisco—to try their luck among the wilds of the great American West. Thus, his maternal grandparents, Edith Shaw and Isaac Ijams, landed in Calabasas—a rough and tumble sort of place where immigrant land-seekers, Mexicans, and Native Americans alike sought to claim what a local newspaper described in 1890 as, “A Very Picturesque and Fertile Region.”
Wally recalls how they chose their plot of land, which is now near the site of the car dealerships at the Parkway Calabasas onramp: “About 1885, my grandmother wished for a water well and they found it using a stick (divining rod) so she got it…and they homesteaded 160 acres.” The couple had no way of knowing they landed right in the middle of a volatile squatter’s war headed by Miguel Leonis—whose historic adobe home has been turned into a museum for visitors to enjoy today (the “Leonis Adobe”).
Wally’s cousin and author, Catherine Mulholland, describes “this cantankerous frontier territory” in her wonderful book, Calabasas Girls. In it, she describes Miguel Leonis:
“the Big Basque or Basque Grande, a former smuggler in the Pyrenees who was wanted by both Spanish and French customs officers…(who) took control of his father-in-law’s herds and flocks, he also began to move them out onto Government land, appropriating it for himself and shooting off homesteaders as they appeared.”
Her book also quotes Isaac E. Ijams, son of Edith and Isaac, describing his parent’s turbulent run-ins with Leonis:
“The Big Basque promptly tried to drive us off. He said we were squatters on a Spanish land grant. But he didn’t figure on the sort of man my father was. It was government land and my father took his case to court and won out.”
Wally’s memory corroborate’s this picture of the infamous landowner, as he recalls his grandmother Edith telling him of another one of Hidden Hills’ very first residents—Anna Leffingwell. “Old Lady Leffingwell used to be afraid of Leonis,” said Wally, “she’d stand outside and yell sometimes, and my grandfather, I guess could look down—he had 160 acres over the hill and I think he could see her—she would yell for him to scare away Leonis.”
Conditions for these hardworking pioneering families were grueling. In addition to Leonis and his strong-arm tactics, the area was notorious for its corrupt sheriffs, alarming murder rate, frequent droughts, and fickle rains. The minutes of a meeting of local Homesteaders circa 1880’s is telling:
Chairman: Calabasas is squashes, Calabozo is jailhouse, and Caboose is the end of the line. Take your pick.
Homesteader: Reckon we oughta call it by a white man’s word?
Chairman: What you got in mind?
Homesteader: Pardonin’ the suggestion—let’s call it Poverty.
Yet the Ijams survived, thrived, and began to form the community we know today. Posthumous family letters gathered by Catherine Mulholland and published in her books, tell the enchanting tale of this bygone era and how the Ijams grew to include the Haas and Perret families. Over the years, they spread through the Los Angeles and Pasadena areas, with Wally’s mother and father marrying in 1919 at the family ranch house that consisted of 10 acres on the corner of Shoup and Vanowen.
Wally was born on March 18, 1925. He recalls a charmed childhood spent on horseback, roaming the open spaces of what is now the Ahmanson Ranch and beyond, a boyhood abounding in adventures of raising cattle, sleeping under the stars, and Indian legends echoing in the nearby caves. He went on to graduate from Van Nuys High School in 1942 and married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy, on New Year’s Eve the next year.
Fresh out of high school and following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the young newlywed enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corp (the predecessor of today’s Air Force) in 1943. He was the co-pilot of a B-17 named “GET ‘EM YANK” and flew 17 combat missions in Germany throughout World War II. Just three days after his 20th birthday, Wally wrote in his journal of the day’s operation. Beginning with, “We really had it today…,” he continues on to describe an unbelievably harrowing aerial fight in the skies over Germany, taking immense enemy fire, and finishes with:
“The crew stood up fine under pressure. I could hear our waist gunners going at ‘em. Finally some of our fighters were able to get after them and we all cheered. That was the first real test we’ve had. No one can say they were not plenty scared though.”
On one expedition, Wally’s plane was hit a remarkable 33 times; he ultimately rose to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and was awarded an Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.
It was after the war, in 1955, that Wally and Dorothy built and moved into their home on El Dorado Meadow, raising their five children there. When asked about his 60 years’ residence in Hidden Hills, Wally replies with his ready smile and sparkling blue eyes, “It’s been wonderful. The kids were all happy and we had a great life here.” Sadly, Dorothy passed away in 2003 after 59 years of wedded bliss. Never one to surrender to life’s trials and tribulations, Wally happily remarried Joyce Göetz in 2005. Together they live in his original home amid the roses, now often filled with myriad visiting grandchildren and great-grand children. Celebrating his 90th birthday this Spring, the eternally cheerful, elegant, and noble Wally Hull continues to live his life with all the vim and vigor of his pioneering roots—and is rightfully venerated as a local treasure.
With an ardent love for history and literature, Kameron DeWulf was educated at UCSD and Oxford University. She has written for magazines such as LA Confidential, California Wedding Day, and Mary Jane’s Farm, and was a contributing editor for online publication, Red Tricycle. Most recently, she was a writer and critic for the Secret Tea Society of London, during a two year adventure there with her husband and two small children.
Published with permission from Hidden Hills Magazine, Spring 2015 issue.