The Mystery of the Olivas Dance Hall

by Richard Senate

In the mid 1870s a man named E. Tapia was traveling though California and paused in Ventura. In his journal he kept notes and, as photography at the time used large cameras, with heavy glass plates, he documented his travels by painting small watercolors of the things he saw.

In his journal is the painting of an adobe building, clearly abandoned, shingled roof with holes, door open. This image resembled nothing photographed in historic Ventura. The caption is even more curious: ” This dance hall of Don Ramundo (Sp) Olivas was situated on the Santa Clara River, six miles from the town of Ventura. Robbed by Joaquin Murieta on June 17th 1850 and (he) obtained sixty thousand dollars in gold from this robbery. Joaquin Murieta and his gang, Botello, Jose Reyes, Carillo, Caudio, Three Finger Jack (Manuel Garcia), and Reyes Felis. This (is) the hall where drinking and dancing, gambling, bear fights, and bullfights and horse racing took place.”

The building is clearly on The Olivas Ranch, six miles from Ventura, but why is there no reference to such a building or enterprise of this type linked to Don Raymundo? At that time owning a saloon was not a thing to be ashamed of–Angel Escandon, the Mayor of Ventura, was a saloon owner. Raymundo did make wine and brandy, why not sell it to people? From the description lots of things went on here, dancing, gambling, bear and bull fights and even horse racing. Why is this the only reference to this place? Another question, why was it abandoned? It sounds lucrative and Don Raymundo was an astute businessman. Why would he close it down? Perhaps it was attracting all the wrong sorts of people, like outlaws and bandits. Maybe it was closed after the great robbery?

Another question is where was it located? The Santa Clara River was one of the three bounties of the Rancho San Miguel that was a large triangle. It could have been at the mouth of the river or where El Camino Real (Present Main Street) crossed The Santa Clara, Near the bridge to Oxnard today. Did someone just tell Mr. Tapia a story and there was no Olivas Dance Hall? Was it perhaps just an old, abandoned adobe building? That is possible.

Does this hint that something else was going on? Dance hall imply the presence of women and music. Such establishments used mechanical music makers and Raymundo collected them. There was no stigma in owning a saloon but there was to owning a brothel. Maybe he didn’t operated it and someone else did? One interesting tale is the first “ghost story” linked to the house. Women saw a white form floating on the road late at night. They thought it was a ghost but Raymundo was sterner stuff and investigated with a gun—waiting for the “ghost”. It proved to be his son (maybe Raimundo Jr?) stealing sheepskins to use in gambling. Its a six-mile hike to downtown Ventura on foot—maybe he wasn’t going that far and just going to the Dance Hall a quarter mile away to gamble? Maybe that’s why Raymundo closed the place? Many mysteries out there to be solved.

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