While I never knew Madam Modjeska during her lifetime, she and I had
certain contracts of which she was completely unaware but which give
me a certain feeling of closeness to her.
In addition to her home in the canyon that bears her name, the
madam had a home in Balboa, specifically on Bay Island. For the
uninformed, Bay Island is a small island in the bay reached only by a
wooden bridge from Balboa.
Now, before the gung ho boys dredged Balboa Bay and renamed it
Newport Harbor so that the multimillionaires could moor their
multimillion-dollar yachts here, what is now the bay was then a
mudflat, which started at Bay Island and continued to the harbor
mouth, with a canal dredged by Joe Beek so that his ferry could
travel from Balboa Peninsula to Balboa Island.
The mudflat was my playground as a youth. Other kids may have had
baseball diamonds or football fields. We locals had that mudflat.
First, of course, that mudflat furnished us with food -- cockles
and scallops as well as razor clams for bait for the fishermen. But
more than that, the mud flats furnished recreation.
We hollowed out narrow channels, which, when the tide went out,
were the places in which we ran, threw ourselves into the air, landed
in one of those channels and slid to the end. It was great fun except
for the slices on our bellies when we ran over some razor clams.
And so Madam Modjeska and I were essentially neighbors, she in her
mansion, me on my mudflat.
My other connection with Madam Modjeska was with her son, Felix,
who became a friend of mine. Felix worked for the city of Newport
Beach in the street department. Felix will always remain in my memory
for a classic letter he wrote to the city when it was naming the
streets in Corona del Mar.
The decision had been made to the name all the streets after
flowers and to do it alphabetically, starting with Acacia. They
proceeded through the alphabet, and when the came to the P street,
their choice of flower was pansy.
I know there is other terminology today, but in that time, pansy
was slang for homosexual.
And so Felix Modjeska wrote a marvelous letter to the City Council
pointing out that he found it a bit embarrassing to have Pansy as an
address and explained why.
The city quickly changed Pansy to Poppy, and that is the street's
And those are my connections to Madam Modjeska.
* ROBERT GARDNER was a Corona del Mar resident and a judge.