Modjeska's century-old house, ARDEN, today a National Historic Landmark, still stands in its liveoak grove on the banks of Santiago Creek in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. After being privately owned for many years, the historic home now belongs to the County of Orange.
To the pioneer settlers of Orange County, Modjeska's "Forest of Arden" was an idyllic incarnation of the California Dream. Visitors wrote of the rambling white frame house, the green lawns and the rose gardens, the wishing well and the rustic bridges across the creek, the woodpeckers and the humming birds. She had named her retreat "Arden" for Shakespeare's Forest of Arden, setting for his pastoral play, "As You Like It." Friends and admirers loved to think of the great Polish actress as she walked through the forest, reciting her roles.
Modjeska and her husband, Karol Bozenta Chlapowski, had first seen the canyon site during their Anaheim sojourn in 1876, when it was a 160 acre mountain homestead owned by a pioneer couple, Joseph and Maria Refugio Pleasants. Seven year later the Chlapowskis' bought a half-interest in the homestead. In 1888, after the death of Maria Pleasants, they bought the remaining interest, plus additional land along the creek, and made plans for a substantial addition to the original pioneer cottage.
For assistance they called upon the gifted young New York architect, Stanford White, destined to become the most famous designer of his time. Probably working from photographs and sketches, White kept the original twin-gabled Pleasants' dwelling as the low end of the house, and planned a matching structure on the other side of the large, picturesque gabled addition in the center. Although Stanford White never saw Santiago Canyon, the house he designed for Madame Modjeska has always seemed perfectly suited to its unique setting.
The Chlapowskis' spent vacations and periods of retirement at their home from 1888 until 1906. The house served also as the headquarters of Bozenta's working ranch. By 1898, additional purchases of land had brought his total canyon holdings to more than 1340 acres. Over the years he planted olive groves, raised cattle, maintained a large apiary, and owned a number of horses.
Helena Modjeska and her husband sold Arden in 1906, just before her final theatrical tour. After a year's residence in Tustin, they moved to Bay Island at Newport Beach, where Helena Modjeska died in 1909.
Arden, which had become a country hunting club after its sale in 1906,
was subdivided into lots and acreage after World War I. From 1923 until
1986 the house on its remaining 14.4 acres was owned by the Charles Walker
family of Long Beach.
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