When we think of a musical instrument that most closely mimics the human soul in a state of upheaval, the violin comes most readily to mind. If the guitar gently weeps, the violin wails, uncontrollably.
So it’s heartening to hear how the Loveland Violin Shop in Santa Rosa is helping to put violins back in people’s hands after the Tubbs Fire so cruelly took them away.
Shop owner Mick Loveland was out of town when the blaze scorched Sonoma County. (At the time of reporting this story, he was traveling abroad.) His 28-year-old son, Julian Loveland, happened to be at his parents’ Santa Rosa home, watering the plants, when the fire spread to the neighborhood. “It was raining embers at the front of house,” Julian says. “I could see whole wall of flames.”
Julian grabbed whatever he could from the house and drove away as the flames engulfed the Loveland's property.
“It’s emotional for my parents, because they’ve been in that house since 1980, and a whole lifetime of memories were enclosed in there,” Julian says. “It’s the house I grew up in.”
Though the house is gone, the violin shop, which has been in downtown Santa Rosa since 1980, remains intact. If the fire had made it a mile further south, Sonoma County’s only violin store would have been turned into ash.
Julian, who learned the craft of the luthier from his father and works at the store, says a conservative estimate of the business’ inventory at the time of the fire amounted to at least $500,000 of instruments and bows. Among the shop’s holdings are a violin made by Bernardus Calcanius of Genoa in 1743 and a rare James Tubbs bow from England.
“This list would go on to include dozens of other instruments by makers who may be less well known, but whose works are still coveted by professional string players today,” Julian says.
As people start to pull their lives back together since the fire, Sonoma County’s string players have been reaching out to the Loveland Violin Shop. Julian says he and his colleagues have received at least two dozen phone calls from people who lost homes with violins.
“So many of our customers were affected by this,” Julian says. “Some people grabbed their instruments in two minutes and managed to flee with them. Some weren’t able to do that.”
One such customer is violin teacher Karen VanDeventer, who’s been coming to the store for more than 30 years, since moving to Santa Rosa from San Jose. She taught in the public middle school in the nearby town of Windsor until she retired a few years ago. She now coaches a few students privately, and continues to play in chamber groups.
VanDeventer and her husband lost their home in the Larkfield neighborhood of Santa Rosa in the Tubbs fire, including her two violins and her piano. A man in her church gifted her an old instrument, and she went directly to the Loveland Violin Shop to furnish herself with new strings, rosin and a chin rest.
VanDeventer was in a state of particular anguish about the loss of her beloved Heberlein violin, which she’d had in her possession for many years. When he heard the news, Mick Loveland rummaged around in his store and put a Heberlein down on the counter in front of her. “I burst into tears and said, 'I can’t do that yet,'” VanDeventer says.
Though VanDeventer wasn’t ready to buy a new violin that day, she appreciated Mick Loveland’s customer care. “I thought it was sweet he looked around and had one he could show me. I might go back one day, and that might be the one I wind up with.”
He gave her a big discount on her accessories, anyway. “He was always super supportive and still is,” VanDeventer says.
Beyond offering discounts on accessories, Julian Loveland says the store has been providing musical instruments to anyone who lost one in the fire, and his team are busy writing appraisals to help replace instruments for those who lacked the necessary documentation to put in insurance claims for their losses.
“We have already supplied a dozen or more instruments, with more to come,” Julian says. “We have ordered additional instruments to meet demand.”
The store has been particularly vigilant about meeting the needs of young musicians. “You can imagine how much of a shock it would be for a child to lose their violin,” Julian Loveland says. “There have been a number of occasions where a kid’s violin was lost and we just put another in their hands.”
The Loveland Violin Store has also been working with the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, a major performing arts hub in Santa Rosa which lost its education facility in the fire. The Luther Burbank Center's Music for Schools program maintained a musical instrument lending library which loaned out violins and other instruments to more than 300 local children who might not otherwise have access to musical instruction.
“I would go borrow things for kids from there,” VanDeventer says of the valuable community resource. The fire destroyed more 200 instruments from the collection, including some 80 violins. The total value of the loss is estimated at $120,000.
"After we lost so many instruments in the fire, we have been scrambling to find instruments for our students," says Ray Gargano, director of education and community engagement at the Burbank Center. "Loveland's was the first place we contacted, because they have been such a great partner through the years and we knew they would take care of us."
VanDeventer was able to return to teaching her private students last week, using a space a friend loaned her as her music studio.
“It’s wonderful to see our community pulling together,” VanDeventer says. “So many of us turn to music for solace anyway, and if you’re one of the ones getting to play, that helps you and other people.”