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Sharing Newport Harbor with Madam Modjeska

October 02, 2005|By: ROBERT GARDNER

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.

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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

name today.

And those are my connections to Madam Modjeska.

* ROBERT GARDNER was a Corona del Mar resident and a judge.

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