The house is now empty and awaiting a much-needed face-lift, but the grounds are as lush, peaceful and inviting as actress Helena Modjeska must have found them at the turn of the century.
The estate the Polish-born actress named after the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare's "As You Like It" is shaded by huge oak trees, the branches of which mingle gracefully with towering palms. The actress, rejuvenating between cross-country theatrical tours, loved to lounge in a hammock on the front lawn and stroll through her garden.
Before too long, Orange County residents will have the opportunity to take a walk through history at the estate where Modjeska and her husband, Karol (Charles) Bozenta Chlapowski--or Madame and the Count, as they were affectionately called--lived from 1888 to 1906.
The estate hasn't been open to the public since the early 1920s, when it was a popular resort. Before that, it went through several owners and incarnations as a country club, a dance pavilion and, briefly, a museum. In 1923, it was purchased by Charles J. Walker, a Long Beach businessman. Five generations of the Walker family lived at the estate between 1923 and 1986, when the county bought it for $1 million.
Rob Selway, the county's chief of historic programs, said the white, bungalow-style house will be restored and opened to the public--a target date has not yet been set--as part of a 14.5-acre historical park. Adding to its historical significance is the fact that it was designed by Stanford White, a leading American architect who helped plan the 1900 restoration of the White House.
The canyon in which the estate sits is named for Modjeska, as is the winding road leading to the house--a route lined with olive trees planted by Bozenta. There also is a Modjeska Country Store and a Modjeska Fire Station.
Local tributes to the woman who at one time was the United States' leading Shakespearean actress are not limited to Modjeska Canyon.
A 5,481-foot mountain peak, one of two that form Saddleback Mountain, was named Modjeska Peak in 1909.
A statue in Pearson Park in Anaheim shows a stately Modjeska in the role of Mary Stuart. The city of Anaheim, where Modjeska first settled when she emigrated from Poland in 1876, also has a Modjeska Park and a Helena Street.
The Orange County History Room at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana has a collection of Modjeska artifacts, including photographs and stage jewelry and costumes.
The Assistance League of Santa Ana's headquarters includes a portion of a house in which Modjeska lived briefly before she moved to a cottage at 3 Bay Island in Newport Beach in 1908. The cottage was torn down in 1941.
Modjeska's memoirs, "Memories and Impressions of Helena Modjeska," published in 1910, and other historical accounts of her life are available at some local libraries, including the Anaheim Public Library, Sherman Library in Corona del Mar and UC Irvine Library, Special Collections.