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From bean fields to ballet: Segerstrom Center celebrates 25 years

The arts complex in Costa Mesa helped transform the county from a 'cultural desert' between L.A. and San Diego to a place where world-class performers come.

September 28, 2011|By Imran Vittachi

The site near where the San Diego (405) Freeway intersects with the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway was one of 19 locations across Orange County considered for the OCPAC project, which, among its earlier names, was called the Orange County Music Center. According to Times archives, the locations included Santa Ana, Irvine and Newport Beach.

It so happened that during the early- to mid-1970s, the Irvine Co., the developer behind Fashion Island and much of the city of Irvine, had considered giving some land in Newport Center for the building of a music center.

But that deal eventually fell through. The Irvine Co. had attached certain conditions, which Music Center advocates apparently could not meet, according to reports from the period.

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A Times article from September 1972 noted that these conditions included demonstrating a need for such a center and providing "responsible long-range plans for its development and expansion."

In addition, feasibility studies showed that Newport Beach would not be suitable for such a center, according to information from the Segerstrom Center.

Ruth Ding, a private piano teacher who joined the Music Center movement in the 1970s and chairwoman of the Sept. 23 gala, said it was difficult to get people to donate money until a piece of land had been secured.

"The big money started to come in once the site was announced," the Laguna Niguel resident said.

The pivotal moment came after Elaine Redfield, of Fullerton, discovered the site in question.

She is the O.C. woman who led the Music Center movement and was widely credited for being the first to approach South Coast Plaza developer Henry T. Segerstrom with a request for an initial 5-acre land gift. Redfield, now 93, is to be honored at the gala but her health prevented her from being interviewed.

However, Ingrid Shutkin, a longtime friend of Redfield's, recalled accompanying her on a visit to the new South Coast Repertory Theater site in the '70s, when the bean fields were still there.

Shutkin remembered how her friend gazed at one of the fields outside South Coast Rep.

"Elaine was standing out there and she said, 'I wonder whether he [Henry Segerstrom] would donate that land for a performing arts center. I think I will write to him.' And, the next day, she wrote to him," Shutkin recalled.

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'A unanimous feeling'

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