Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Olivas Adobe, prime-time Rancho history

The Olivas Adobe is a great way to “visit” Southern California’s Rancho Period first-hand. Not far from my home, this prime example of adobe (dried clay brick) architecture is unique with its two-story structure. Don Raymundo Olivas added an unusual second floor during the rancho’s hey-day in the late 1840’s, and the house has been restored to its original stature.

Don Raymundo was born poor in 1809 in the tiny pueblo that grew into today’s Los Angeles and joined the Mexican Army in California at 16. As a Lancer (cavalryman), he was assigned to the Presidio (fort) at Santa Barbara, about two hours north of L.A.

It was here in Santa Barbara that Raymundo met Teodora Lopez and married her in November 1832. In gratitude for his loyalty and service, Mexican Governor Juan B. Alvarado granted Raymundo and a friend 4,670 acres of land in today’s Ventura County. Raymundo began ranching this land while Teodora began bearing children. 21 total, eight girls and 13 boys.

When gold was discovered along the American River about four hundred miles north, Raymundo found his own "gold mine" and made a fortune supplying those Forty-Niner miners with beef as well as hides.

These were the golden years for the adobe, with its remodeling and additions and glorious parties. Raymundo’s family prospered until drought in the 1860’s destroyed the cattle empires. He survived by raising sheep.

His death in 1879 was the beginning of the end for the Olivas' fortune, and the adobe house was sold in 1899. Some of the ranchland has become a municipal golf course, some strawberry fields, some subdivisions. After passing through many owners, the adobe itself was purchased by Max Fleischmann, of the yeast empire, who restored the building in 1927. Upon his death, the adobe was given to the City of Ventura, and it opened as a museum in July, 1972. Docent-led tours are frequent.

We local folks enjoy the “Cowboys, Heroes and Outlaws: Passport to the American West” held every summer, with Western reenactors in full regalia as well as pioneer crafts for the kids.

In fact, many fourth-grade schoolchildren take field trips to the adobe for a hands-on two-hour program that brings to life the Rancho Period of California History.

And at Christmas, you can enjoy a holiday candlelight tour that showcases the tradition of Las Posada, where Mary and Joseph seek room at the inn.

Although my current release, Marrying Minda, is set in northeast Nebraska, as is Marrying Mattie, available August 27, 2010, Olivas Adobe is a great place to set a future story, to be sure. And an even better place to visit.

Ya’ll come on down, ya hear?

~Tanya Hanson