The historic house in Modjeska Canyon around Lake Forest, CA was once home to a world-famous actress. The Arden Helena Historic House and Gardens are tucked away within an oak grove along the banks of Santiago Creek, where you can enjoy peaceful views while learning about its rich history through interactive exhibits inside.
In 1876, the world-renowned Shakespearean actress Helena Modjeska came to America from Poland with her husband and friends. They settled in Anaheim, where they founded what is now known as Arden – The Historic House & Gardens on this property that has been lovingly restored for visitors’ enjoyment through education about life during agricultural Colonization days. The museum provides an immersive experience into historic times by demonstrating how typical homes were built back then using original furnishings.
After their colony failed, Helena quickly learned English and performed on the American stage. She performed in theatres across America with her husband by the side for two decades until they retired to this wooded canyon. He created an idyllic retreat which she named Arden after Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”
When Stanford White designed his rambling white cottage with several porches, a Palladian window, and panoramic roofs in 1885, it was an elegant home for Madame Modjeska’s family. But the romance of her life there attracted developers who marketed parcels off property to families seeking vacation homes, eventually leading this famous landmark, Arden, into ruins.
The family that purchased these lands in 1923 gradually turned them into one of California’s most famous nature preserves. For over 60 years, they vacationed here, caring for this land as their private sanctuary from city life. The Walkers were not only able to preserve what remained largely untouched by humans but also created a legacy that continues today, with visitors flocking miles away so that they can enjoy some peace & quiet.
The land owned by the county of Orange contains a historic park that was initially purchased to preserve it for future generations. The native plant life remains, along with some original planting such as palms and yews from before the Modjeska era; however, there are also Redwoods planted in the 1930s by the Walker family, which make up part of this grove today.
The Lake Forest in “As You Like It” is where its name comes from. Tours are available by reservation on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at 10 am. Our docent-led tours last around one hour thirty minutes long, so you can take as many different ones that fit your schedule or enjoy this beautiful place without any constraints or time limits whatsoever. Visitors to the historic house and gardens can enjoy a self-guided tour from 11:00 am until 2:00 pm on Saturdays.