A Pirate’s Life for Him
There’s Something So Rewarding About Plunder


Production designer Ron Volz got an early start on his flair for props as well as his obsession with pirates. As a child growing up in Cincinnati, Volz “dreamt of seeing the ocean and finding a treasure of jewels and gold doubloons.” By the age of 4 he was hoarding seashells brought back by neighbors from Florida and making clipper ships out of carved tree limbs and his grandmother’s hatpins. Volz world travels began in the 70's with a stint as a roadie for Alice Cooper, a gig that also involved operating a guillotine while wearing knee-high boots in Cooper’s stage extravaganzas. On the road, Volz began collecting jewelry and semiprecious stones, including large boulders of amethyst, quartz, turquoise and black opal.

The real raiding began in 1980, after he found a pair of resin-cast, bronze-coated pirate bookends made by artist Paul Herzel. Today Volz, a production designer for music videos and commercials, owns more than 30 pairs of pirate-themed bookends, along with hundreds of other pirate-themed items spanning the 18th to the early 20th centuries. A high point of Volz’s career was creating the pirate-themed “Voyage of Sinbad” ride in 1987 for the Seoul, South Korea, amusement park Lotte World. “It was the perfect job,” he says.

He spent months pillaging L.A. swap meets and estate sales, buying $50,000 worth of “treasure” for three pirate vaults for the ride. At his Miracle Mile residence are more than 35 model ships, including two Spanish galleons more than 100 years old, 20 oil paintings and charcoal drawings of whaling ships and the famed clipper known as “Lightning,” a ship’s wheel, an anchor, ropes, fishing nets and antique navigational equipment. Weapons also abound, including African spears, jewel-encrusted swords, a rare 19th century Ottoman Empire flintlock and hundreds of small cannons. Then there’s the plunder. Volz’s personal booty includes silver-tipped walking canes, killer whael teeth, ivory, scrimshaw, silver chalices, pewter tankards, jugs of 86-proof vintage Irish whiskey (for quenching ye thirst) and hundreds of chests and boxes filled with “treasure” for his daughters, Verononica, 9, and Sophia, 7.

These chests, ranging in size from traveling trunks to mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes, are filled to the brim with vintage costume jewelry pieces, strands of pearls and beads, bedazzling brooches and delicate Brazilian bracelets made of butterfly wings featuring scenes of Rio de Janeiro. More than 300 pieces of cut Czechoslovakian glass resemble garnets, rubies, malachite and emeralds. In a moment sure to shiver the timbers of any swashbuckler, Veronica informed her father that she thought their house was a pirate’s museum. Beaming with pride, the buccaneer replied, “Aye, aye, lassie, right you are!”

–Margaret Aston. Los Angeles Times Magazine September 5, 2004. ;