High society came to Tustin in late 1800s

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

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.


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