Madame Modjeska, a world renowned
Shakespearean actress, is pictured here in costume as Mary Queen of Scots.
She had many friends in Tustin and was a vital part of the community’s
social and cultural life
Tustin was still a small village with
few social or cultural opportunities when a wealthier and more sophisticated
type of settler began to arrive in the late 1800s.
David Hewes, a wealthy retired San Francisco
contractor and world traveler as well as a close friend of Gov. Leland
Stanford, and his wife, Mathilda, were typical of the newcomers. Charmed by
the beautiful trees as well as the serenity of Tustin and the health
benefits the climate offered Mrs. Hewes, they bought property in 1881 and
built a Victorian mansion at the corner of Main and B streets.
Hewes also invested in agricultural property
north of Tustin near El Modena and set to work establishing a large ranch.
When Mrs. Hewes complained that she missed her church, he bought property at
the corner of Main and C and donated generously to the building of The
Tustin Presbyterian Church.
Daughter Franklina with her spouse, W.S.
Bartlett, accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Hewes south. Mr. Bartlett became involved
in starting the Bank of Tustin and the Bank of Orange, but his wife, who had
been very active in the Ebell Society in Berkeley, found little to do in
Tustin. Soon she was organizing the Ebell Society of the Santa Ana Valley
and recruiting the ladies of Tustin to be members.
James S. Rice, brother-in-law of James
Irvine, and his wife, Coralinn, came to Southern California about the same
time. A prosperous Cleveland, Ohio, businessman, he planned to work with
Irvine on the ranch, but they soon found the isolation of ranch life to be
stifling. The Rices moved to Tustin, buying property at the corner of First
and Prospect and building a three-story house.
Both were talented musicians in addition to being very social. Soon they
were having elegant parties and entertainment. Mrs. Rice soon became known
as “the sweet song bird of Tustin.”
Before long, Tustin had a well-developed
social life with hostesses such as Jeanette Wilcox, Stella Preble and her
mother, Mrs. S. W. Preble, entertaining at festive parties. Sherman Stevens
and his bride, Martha Snow, were among the first to have a formal wedding at
The Tustin Presbyterian Church. A lavish reception followed at their new
home across the street.
Madame Modjeska, the Polish Shakespearean
actress whose home, Arden, was in the Santiago Canyon, was a friend of the
Rices. She often attended parties in Tustin and took part in amateur
theatricals. She sang with Mrs. Rice and appeared in benefit performances at
French’s Opera House in Santa Ana.
Madame Modjeska became part of an elite group
of Tustin socialites and was made an honorary member of the Ebell Society
after entertaining at a meeting of the organization.
When Madame Modjeska sold Arden in 1906, she
rented a house in Tustin on West Main near Tustin Ave. She continued to
entertain local friends as well as celebrities. When her health began to
fail, she decided that the sea air would be beneficial and moved to a small
cottage on Bay Island where she lived until her death in 1909.
The society and culture developed during
those early years is still very much alive in today’s Tustin.