"The final chapter in a decades-old mystery has now been concluded at UCLA with a settlement that returns full ownership to the university of a 265-year-old Stradivarius violin named the "Duke of Alcantara."
The agreement ends litigation that started in October 1994 when an amateur violinist who had come into possession of the Stradivarius -- which had been donated to UCLA but disappeared in August 1967 -- did not want to give it up. The woman, Teresa Salvato, said her former husband's aunt had given the violin to her husband, who subsequently turned it over to her in a divorce settlement. Family lore said the aunt found the violin alongside a road. Salvato maintained the Stradivarius was rightfully hers.
To avoid a protracted court fight, UCLA agreed on Dec. 1, 1995, to pay the woman $11,500 and gain sole possession of the violin.
"We are overjoyed that UCLA, which is the leading arts and cultural center of the West, has regained possession of this wonderful instrument," said Daniel M. Neuman, Dean of UCLA's School of the Arts and Architecture. "We were confident all along that the court would see that the Stradivarius legally belonged to us, but this settlement enabled us to put an unfortunate turn of events behind us and allows us to make plans for the future use of the violin."
The Stradivarius has been in safekeeping at UCLA since Oct. 14, 1994, when, after the university sued to regain possession, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien signed an order telling Salvato to surrender the instrument until its ownership could be determined. Under the court order, UCLA could not play or display the instrument until the resolution of the case.
"Given the situation, we have not yet had time to have the Stradivarius appraised, but I have heard estimates ranging from $600,000 to $2 million," Neuman said. "But beyond monetary value, this instrument's historical worth and the enjoyment it brings to music lovers who hear it played is priceless."
The story of how UCLA regained possession of the violin, which is one of about 600 still surviving from the 1,200 crafted by Antonio Stradivari of Cremona, Italy, is like something out of a plot-twisting mystery novel.
The violin, which was crafted in 1732, when Stradivari was about 88 years old, was named for the Duke of Alcantara, a Spanish nobleman. It was owned in the 1960s by a Los Angeles woman named Genevieve Vedder, who donated to UCLA's Department of Music. But in 1967, the violin vanished when David Margetts, then a violinist in UCLA's Roth String Quartet, either left it on top of his car and drove off or it was stolen from inside the car. Reports were filed with authorities, ads were placed in newspapers, and violin dealer and repair shops worldwide were contacted, all to no avail.
The instrument resurfaced in January 1994, when a violin teacher in Northern California showed up at the Petaluma shop of violin restorers and makers Joseph Grubaugh and his wife, Sigrun Seifert, with an instrument the teacher said was owned by one of his students. Bells went off in Grubaugh's and Seifert's heads, and they did a bit of detective work. They discovered the violin was indeed the "Duke of Alcantara" and that it was listed in the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers' missing-property registry. The couple then contacted an Oakland attorney friend, Carla Shapreau, who also makes violins, and she set in motion the legal steps that led to UCLA's recovery of the Stradivarius.
"Behind this story are some unsung heroes, people who care deeply about unique instruments and are honest," said Eric Behrens, a lawyer in the University of California General Counsel's Office in Oakland, who was the counsel on the case and worked along with Shapreau. "At the time the violin disappeared, the person to whom it had been entrusted, Mr. Margetts, felt just terrible and made every effort to recover it. We're very grateful to Mr. Grubaugh and Ms. Seifert, who identified the violin 27 years later, which led to its return to its rightful owners. This is a colorful story, which has, for the university, a happy ending.""