Friday, October 26, 2007

Modjeska, fire, Tomato Springs, Opal Kissinger, etc

Rob Selway, manager for the County's Historical Parks, tells me that the Santiago Canyon fire got within spitting distance of Arden (actress Helena Modjeska's 1888 home, pictured above). Luckily, the building, like others in Modjeska Canyon, was sprayed down with fire-retardant gel or foam shortly before the fire arrived, and the place was saved.
In the face of widespread fire and tragedy, it seems strange to keep chattering away about local history. But that's what this website is about. I’m worried about the fires too -- But there are hundreds of news sources better equipped to tell you that story than I am. All I can add is the occasional bit of historical perspective.
For instance, the media has frequently referred to "Portola Springs" in their coverage of the fires. This is a new marketing name that housing developers slapped on a historically significant spot called Tomato Springs. In Historic Place Names In Orange County, Don Meadows identified Tomato Springs as “tiny springs in Bee Canyon,… northeast of the El Toro Air Station. They were discovered by Padre Francisco Gomez [of the Portola Expedition] in July, 1769, and named San Pantaleon. Early in the days of American occupation, tomatoes were found growing wild around the springs and the present name was applied.” In 1912, it was also the site of a famous shoot-out between Sheriff’s Deputies and the “Tomato Springs Bandit.”

The National Archives' regional depository in Laguna Niguel is considering a move to the so-called Great Park. The Register ran an informative article about the possible move today.
In my search for more Modjeska photos today, I stumbled across this Polish website that includes photos of beloved local librarian and historian Opal Kissinger playing the roll of Helena Modjeska. Now, like Modjeska herself, Opal is "world famous in Poland!"


Steve said...

I remember each month getting my invoice for the Tollroads, and it would always show the many times I passed through the toll station at "Tomato Springs". Now I know why it's called that. At least the tollroads still stick to history.

Mardo said...

He is my story...

Rebel Girl said...

Just found your site - looks grand. I plan to be a regular visitor.

I live in Modjeska and blog at two sites - one about the OC Lit scene:

The other is about the college district where I work (I am one of many voices on that):

Thanks for your work here -

Chris Jepsen said...

Thanks to all three of you for your comments and links.

Steve: Yes, the toll both is about the only hint most people get that this place name exists.

Mardo: I hate to think how much of that beautiful, lush, (but sometimes dangerous) growth has been lost in the canyons. I haven't yet had the heart to drive out and look for myself. Best of luck to you.

Rebel Girl: I love that your blog is targeted at "Orange County... and the border regions of Los Angeles and San Diego."

Let's see how L.A. likes it when WE marginalize THEM for a change. :-)

karen said...

I used to drive the 241 and was charmed by the name Tomato Springs. Went "looking" online for more info. Even drove around and snuck under a few fences. Do the springs still actually exist?

Chris Jepsen said...

I don't know if there's a well hidden away on the site, but I doubt there's anything there that looks like a natural spring. Most of that area is - of course - covered with houses and concrete.

Anonymous said...

Just visited Tomato Springs this afternoon. It's still there, albeit surrounded by home construction. It was flowing pretty good too.
Took photos but lost them while downloading to the computer.

Steve said...

How exactly does one visit Tomato Springs? Is a map available?

Chris Jepsen said...

The springs are not on public land. I don't know if the Irvine Land Conservance is, or will be, offering hikes out that way, but it might be worth checking their website now and then.

Steve L. said...


Thanks for the reply. Although your replay indicated Tomato Springs are not assessable to the general public, I still want to know where they are. Is there a map available that has the location? I live in Portola Springs, and in the material given to us by the developer, it indicated Tomato Springs will eventually be included on nature trails build through our area. I would like to know where the Springs are. The developer doesn't have a clue; even though, it was mentioned in their advertisements.


Steve L.