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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

As for the family whose 1979 land donation finally launched the performing arts center that now bears the family name, Henry T. Segerstrom said in a rare interview with Arts O.C. that the presence and success of South Coast Repertory — whose present site was also made possible thanks to a similar land grant from the Segerstroms — gave the OCPAC project impetus that persuaded donors to give dollars.

In response to a question about whether his family's decision to donate the land was in any way seen as commercially risky — or driven by business interests, given the site's proximity to South Coast Plaza — Segerstrom said the move was a purely philanthropic one.

"In retrospect I think it's quite a tribute to the Segerstrom family that there was a unanimous feeling that we should support the arts without reservation," he said in an interview at his Fairview Road offices in Costa Mesa.


In fact, Segerstrom revealed, the land on which the newer, serpentine and glassed-in Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall stands was originally slated for hotel development.

After Segerstrom Hall opened in the 1980s, Segerstrom said his company planned to build a hotel; they even hired famed architect I.M. Pei to design it. Plans for the hotel began in 1985 but were scrapped in 1989, according to records from C.J. Segerstrom & Sons.

"We were ready to go ahead with the construction when the national economy hit a bump and we had to give up the immediate prospect of a hotel," Segerstrom said.

It was at that time, Segerstrom said, "that the successes of the Orange County Performing Arts Center were so strong that the community wanted to have a separate concert hall, so we gave up our entitlements that established the value of the land to convey those same pieces of land to the performing arts center … "

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