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Trip of the Week

Reliving the Days of Spanish Dons

July 10, 1988|MICHELE GRIMM and TOM GRIMM | The Grimms are writers/photographers based in Laguna Beach.

VENTURA — "Just imagine, the family raised 22 children in this house--and it's still standing!" our guide said.

The home, built in the 1840s, is the well-preserved Olivas Adobe, once the social center of Rancho San Miguel, a Mexican land grant that covered 6,600 acres in what is now Ventura County. About 6 1/2 acres survive as a historic site and city park.

The home depicts the life of the dons, especially during Old Adobe Days. On July 24, California's Spanish/Mexican heritage will be celebrated with activities of those early times.

Old-Fashioned Chores

You can watch tortillas, saddles and even adobe bricks being made. Corn grinding, butter churning, woodcarving, basket weaving and quilting also will be demonstrated between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. A tamale lunch is $3.

Admission costs $1 per person. Entertainment will be classical guitar and Indian/Spanish music and a children's Mexican folkloric dance troupe.

Begin your visit in the Exhibit Building that displays photos of the Olivas family, portrays adobe brick making and restoration techniques, and shows items from ranch life in the 1840s.

The landscaped grounds leading to the adobe and its courtyard include pepper and eucalyptus trees that are more than a century old. The county's oldest and largest fuchsia and a huge hydrangea date to 1899. Also look for the grape arbor with vines that were planted by the Olivas family as one condition for receiving their land grant.

In addition to grapevines, land-grant recipients were required to plant fruit trees and grain and to raise cattle. Within three decades the Olivas family had 800 acres under cultivation with corn and barley. Nearly 1,000 head of cattle, as well as horses and sheep, grazed on the rest of their property.

Raimundo Olivas was an early Angeleno, born in Los Angeles in 1809 when its population was about 400. At 23 he married Teodora Lopez in Santa Barbara. Their marriage lasted 47 years and they raised 22 children.

The family settled south of Mission San Buenaventura, where Raimundo Olivas and Felipe Lorenzana were awarded a land grant in 1841 for their services as soldiers in the Mexican Army. A two-story adobe was built soon after the Olivas family outgrew its one-room home near the Santa Clara River.

Spanish-Moorish Design

The house reflected a Monterey style that featured straight lines instead of arches and shingled roofs rather than red-tile roofs of traditional Spanish-Moorish design. It had a balcony on the second story, doors that opened onto the courtyard, and glass in the windows.

Remodeling by subsequent owners has altered some of the home, but it still looks much the same as when the Olivas family was in residence until the turn of the century. On the second floor is the largest room, the chapel, that was visited monthly by a mission priest who held Mass for the family and neighbors.

Adjacent is the master bedroom with period furniture, including a hand-painted trunk where clothes and linens were kept. Next door is another bedroom for the girls of the family. The boys slept outdoors on the balcony or in the courtyard.

Downstairs in the living room is the only artifact belonging to the Olivas family that remains: a hand organ that dates to the 1840s. A large fireplace was added by a later owner, as well as hardwood planks that covered the original dirt floor.

Another ground-floor room served as a kitchen, although all cooking during the Olivas era was done outside in the courtyard in ovens. One such oven will be in use during Old Adobe Days.

The dining room recalls when the building served as a hunting retreat for its last private owner, Max Fleishmann, heir to the Fleishmann yeast fortune, who bought the property in 1927. He also bought surrounding land as a duck reserve and hunted with friends there until his death in 1951.

Golfers Replace Hunters

Today the hunters have been replaced by golfers who play on the city's Olivas Park Golf Course. In 1963 the Fleishmann family gave the city the adobe and also funds for its restoration.

The grounds of the Olivas Adobe are open every day from 10 a.m. A guided tour takes place only on weekends between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. At other times the furnished house can be viewed through its windows.

Admission is free to the Olivas Adobe and grounds, but donations are accepted. Call (805) 644-4346 for more information.

Get to the historic adobe from Los Angeles by driving north on U.S. 101 to the Victoria Avenue exit in Ventura. Turn left to go under the freeway, then right on Olivas Park Drive.

After your visit, continue west on Olivas Park Drive, cross Harbor Boulevard and follow Spinnaker Drive along the southern end of the pleasure-boat basin to Ventura Harbor Village.

It's home to a dozen restaurants, including Bedfords, Berto's Ristorante, Andria's and Hornblower's. On the opposite side of the harbor is Alexander's, which can be reached by turning right on Navigator Drive across Harbor Boulevard.

The restaurant adjoins the 160-room Harbortown Marina Resort. Its $55-a-night "Seaside Escape" package includes a room and breakfast for two as well as a fruit basket and wine. Call toll-free (800) 622-1212 or (805) 658-1212.

For a list of lodgings and restaurants, contact the Ventura Visitor and Convention Bureau, 89-C S. California St., (805) 648-2075. The office is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekends from 10 a.m.

Return to Los Angeles by rejoining U.S. 101 south, or go south on Harbor Boulevard to Channel Island Boulevard and pick up California 1.

Round trip from Los Angeles to Ventura is 142 miles.

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