The folks at UCLA have agreed to pay Teresa Salvato $11,500 for an old violin she says one of her former in-laws found beside a freeway.
On the other hand, the university feels that's a reasonable amount to part with for the return of the Duke of Alcantara Stradivarius, a cherished instrument with an estimated value of more than $800,000.
The deal between Salvato and UCLA was struck on Dec. 1, ending months of sometimes acrimonious negotiation over a treasure believed lost for 27 years. Salvato relinquished all claim to the violin in return for the money. UCLA, which had originally acquired the precious instrument as a gift, reclaimed ownership.
The story behind all this dates back to the summer of 1967, when David Margetts borrowed the university's most valuable violin--crafted for a Spanish nobleman in 1732 by an aging Antonio Stradivari--and took it to a rehearsal in Hollywood.
Margetts, then a second violinist with UCLA's resident Feri Roth quartet, said that after the rehearsal, he either set the violin on the car's roof before he drove off, or he left it in the back seat of the unlocked vehicle while shopping for groceries in Pasadena. When he got back to the car, the fiddle was gone.
About two hours later, after a frantic and fruitless search, Margetts notified police of the loss, telling them the Stradivarius had been in a double case that also contained a 1950s-vintage violin.
Salvato says that according to her former husband's family lore, it was about that same time that the husband's aunt spotted a bundle beside a freeway on-ramp that she thought might be a small child. When the aunt took a closer look, Salvato says, she found that the bundle was a case containing two violins.
Years passed. The aunt died, and the instruments were handed down through the family until Salvato got them as part of a divorce settlement. She lent the older violin to her music teacher, and he--seeing that the instrument needed repairs--took it to the Petaluma shop of Joseph Grubaugh and his wife, Sigrun Seifert.
"That violin is very distinctive, and they are experts in the field of authentication of fine Italian violins," said Carla Shapreau, an attorney for UCLA. "They found a photo of the violin that established which one it was, and they consulted a missing property registry that listed it as missing since 1967."
Shapreau said the couple called UCLA in January 1994, and for 10 months, the university tried without success to talk Salvato into parting with the violin. Eventually, UCLA went to court, and Salvato consented to surrender the instrument until an agreement could be worked out.
This month, roughly 263 years after Stradivari crafted the precious instrument from pine and maple, the university won sole claim to it.