The Great Olivas Music Box Mystery Inbox

by Richard Senate

The Olivas Family is scattered far and wide, with branches all over Southern California, as far north as Seattle, Washington and as far east as San Antonio, Texas. And these are just the ones we know about! One branch of the family even extends to the Hawaiian Islands. In 1920s the US Navy brought in well paid workers to build the Pearl Harbor base. One of them was an Olivas who, liked the climate and people, and stayed on, he married an Asian woman and settled down. Like all the many branches of the family, they visited California and made the pilgrimage to the Olivas Adobe. When I was site manager I made a special point to meet with them and give them a tour of the house. I also asked them what they knew about stories of the house and events linked to the family. The Hawaiian Olivas family came on a rain-soaked afternoon well after closing time, but they had called ahead, so I stayed open to give them a tour. They didn’t drive in until after five but, I was happy to meet with them and get their family history.

They told me their story of the great robbery, in this one the bandits cut the gold buttons off the girls dresses took their rings and earrings as well as $30,000 in coin. Then they told me about the “Great Olivas Music Box.” They said that Don Raymundo was rich and purchased a huge music maker with a gigantic crank on its side, one had to turn it with both hands. It also had two life-sized dancing marionettes, a man and a woman, operated by strings, that performed for each song. This music box played a number of songs and became well known all over California, so much so that the governor of the state made a special trip to San Buenaventura to see the thing and marveled at its performing figures.

I know that Don Raymundo collected music makers, one we have at the house, another is in the Ventura County Museum of Art and History. I have seen two others and have heard of three more but nothing like the massive machine they were describing. Then it hit me–the music maker was our Barrel Piano! It has dancing figures but they are only three inches tall! Telling the story of the music machine in faraway Hawaii they described the figures as bigger and bigger with each account, until they were life-sized! Story telling is like that. Each time a tale is told it’s slightly changed and made just a little bit “better.”

I brought them into the Sala and played the Barrel Piano for them. They couldn’t believe this was the legendary Olivas Music Box. They said it must have been another one that was sold or given away. They enjoyed their stay and took many pictures of the house to take back to Pearl City. They were so crestfallen over the music box I had to tell them it was possible that there was such a massive music maker, there is much we do not know about Don Raymundo, maybe such a piece will be discovered someday.

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