Born Albert Raborn Phillips in Los Angeles in 1920, Mr. Phillips graduated from UCLA in 1941. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy reaching the grade of Lieutenant.
Always interested in historic preservation, "Ray" was active in and had become President of the Heritage Square Museum in Pasadena, Ca. He was responsible for moving and restoring the first two houses that are now standing there, the Hale House and the Richard Shaw House, also known as the Valley Knudsen Garden Residence In 1961, Ray read that a Mrs. Walter (Kay) Beachy was sponsoring a luncheon for anyone interested in saving the Leonis Adobe. Curious, he responded. Finding kindred spirits committed to historic preservation, he enthusiastically joined the Board. When neither the City or County of Los Angeles nor the State of California would intervene to acquire the Leonis property for a park, Mrs. Beachy purchased the five and a half acres on which the Adobe stood for $240,000.
Mrs. Beachy then formed the Leonis Adobe Association to hold ownership of the Adobe with her attorney as President. When her attorney stepped down shortly afterwards, Ray became President of the Association, a position that he held for the next forty years.
With no one living in the house, the old structure fell victim to vandals. Doors and shutters were ripped off their hinges, windows smashed, and the balcony fretwork destroyed. A favorite sport was to ride horses in the front door and out the back door. Fires were set in the living room and the wood walls badly hacked. The banister was torn from the wall and stuffed down the chimney.
Mrs. Beachy stepped in to have the house boarded up at her expense. She then donated $7,000 to the Association so that restoration could begin.
Ray promptly hired an architect to help him determine the design of the damaged windows and doors. Often replacements were found from other older buildings that were being destroyed downtown and in surrounding areas. The wood walls were repaired and the stairway banister recovered from the chimney.
In the dining room, early photos revealed that there was a brick faced fireplace. Ray found that it had been covered by volcanic rock that was then plastered with a green cement wall. He had workers carefully chip away layers that hid its original condition.
In 1967, Mr. and Mrs. Pedro Orsua came to be resident caretakers of the Adobe. Mrs. Orsua had been raised from childhood by Espiritu Leonis as a member of the family. She and three orphan girls shared the small upstairs room that is now the bathroom. Her memories as to how the Adobe appeared when Espiritu and Miguel were alive were used by Ray to authentically restore and furnish the Adobe.
Exterior restoration was also required. Barely discernable above trees next to the house, early photos showed the upper works of a windmill that had been connected to a well. Ray moved carefully about to determine placement of the camera when the picture was taken. He was able to determine the line of the camera and the distance of the windmill's tower from the house to find one of the original posts.
An architect took the photo and held it upside down between his legs - a trick he used to see what was really in the picture, not what he expected to see. With two strokes of a shovel he found a second missing corner post, then the others, and finally the well beneath it.
Ray had the well excavated, which was 4 ? feet by 9 ? feet, wood lined and had been used as a dump. Much of what was found was extremely useful to the recreation of articles in the house. Ray traveled far and wide to find antique furnishings to replace what had been damaged or destroyed. While trying to find a replacement for the canopied bed slept in by Miguel and Espiritu, Ray's travels took him to an old Monterey adobe. There he saw a bed that was exactly as described by Mrs. Orsua that she recalled from childhood. He promptly returned to Los Angeles to have a local furniture maker replicate it. Ray was determined in his commitment to authenticity.
In honor of the work he has done, Ray has been the recipient of awards from the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Natural History Museum Alliance, Science and History Alliance of Los Angeles County, La Puente Valley Historical Society, City of Los Angeles, City of Calabasas, the Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles and the Chamber of Commerce of Calabasas, and the Leonis Adobe Association.
He continues to serve the Museum as its President Emeritus to advise the board on the vital role of accurate restoration in historic preservation.