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BANDITOS, BODIES AND GHOSTS (OH MY)!

Byline: Carol Bidwell Daily News Staff Writer

Rich grandees. Beautiful senoritas. Fierce banditos. Murder. Buried treasure. Lost bodies. Ghost stories.

It's hard to believe all those things are connected with the peaceful Olivas Adobe, which today sits smack-dab in the middle of a Ventura farming area. But the history of the adobe - one of the few remaining two-story Mexican homes still standing - will be recounted this weekend and at a series of future events.

``It's a very historic place,'' said Richard Senate, storyteller, ghost hunter, former curator of the adobe and current head of the city's cultural affairs office. ``The Olivas family was one of the wealthiest ranching families in Southern California. And the adobe where they lived is one of the best-preserved.''

At 10 a.m. Saturday at the adobe, a traditional Mexican mercado will open, selling arts and crafts. At 11 a.m. begins the Olivas Fiesta, with special tours, demonstrations, food, music, folklorico dancing, western gunfighters and music. Events run until 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children. Information: (805) 658-4726.

The adobe, now visited primarily by local schoolchildren and tourists and a site for local fiestas, was built in 1841 to house the growing family of Don Raymundo Olivas. A self-taught man who never attended school but was a whiz at math and spoke at least five languages, Olivas went into the Mexican Army when he was 16, served at the presidio in Santa Barbara and in Ventura and retired 17 years later as a cavo, or lieutenant.

To reward him for diligent service, the Mexican government gave him nearly 4,700 acres of grazing land - or nearly one-third the present city of Ventura. The former soldier called his new home Rancho San Miguel, making his fortune selling cattle during the Gold Rush.

``He would drive his cattle to the gold country and literally come back with bags of gold,'' Senate said.

The rancher and his wife, Theodora, were parents of 21 children - eight girls and 13 boys, 17 of whom lived to adulthood.

Don Raymundo needed a big house for all those children, so he recruited some Chumash tribesmen who had worked at Mission San Buenaventura to fashion adobe bricks for walls and floors, collect wood from the canyons for a roof and put it all together into the grandest home he could imagine.

He ordered a high wall to be built around the adobe - some said to keep out bandits. But Senate believes it's just as likely that the wall was designed to keep local swains from flirting with the saucy Olivas daughters.

Don Raymundo was known to keep quite a bit of money at home; some say it was a $75,000 windfall from the sale of a herd of cattle that lured bandits to the adobe one night. The marauders threatened the family, robbed them and even tore Dona Theodora's gold and diamond earrings from her ears.

But Don Raymundo had instructed a Chumash workman to bury his overflowing treasure chest; spotting the Indian, the bandits shot him but never found the gold.

Don Raymundo died in 1879, just a month short of his 70th birthday, leaving the adobe and his lands to his wife. The property was divided among their children after Dona Theodora's death, and eventually much of it was sold off. The adobe structures were turned into a dairy farm for a time, then were purchased by yeast tycoon Max Fleischmann and turned into a gun club. Fleischmann donated the adobe to the city of Ventura in the 1950s.

It was during the restoration that Senate began another hunt - and not for treasure. Family records indicated that there was a burial ground on the property, but Senate couldn't find it.

Senate searched cemetery, city and county records for years before recently finding Catholic Church records that suggest strongly that Dona Theodora is still buried in a 12-by-12 plot in a former Catholic cemetery on Ventura's Main Street, a burial ground cleared in the 1960s to build a park. Senate believes her husband lies next to her.

Maybe it was all those years of uncertainty that prompted Dona Theodora - or one of her daughters - to return in spirit to the adobe. Those who work there say a woman dressed in a black, 1800s-style dress has been spotted occasionally peering out the second-story window of Dona Theodora's former chapel, and the chapel itself is cold - evidence, Senate and other ghost-hunters say - of a lingering spirit.

Words, music at Olivas Adobe

Olivas Adobe Historical Park, at 4200 Olivas Park Drive, Ventura, is open daily; free tours are given from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Information: (805) 644-4346.

Coming events include:

Storytelling by Richard Senate, 7 to 9 p.m. July 26, Aug. 9 and Aug. 23. Tickets $5 for adults, $4 for children.

A Saturday evening concert series, beginning at 7 p.m. July 6, Cajun and zydeco; July 13, Latin jazz; July 20, folk music; July 27; Latin jazz; Aug. 3; Old West music; Aug. 17, folk music; Aug. 24, bluegrass; and Aug. 31, Veracruz harps. Tickets are $8 adults, $6 children. Information: (805) 658-4726.

Silent movie night, 7 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 10 a showing of ``The Mark of Zorro'' starring swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Tickets $8 adults, $6 children.

Half-hour ghost tours run 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 26, starting every 15 minutes. Tickets $5 adults, $3 children.

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Box

Photo: The Olivas Adobe is framed, left, by a still-pr oducing 140-year-old grapevine that can trace its roots back to mission days.

Carol Bidwell/Daily News

Box: Words, music at Olivas Adobe (See Text)
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 28, 1996
Words:951
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