Henry Segerstrom, 91, was a towering O.C. cultural figure

Henry Segerstrom, 91, was a towering O.C. cultural figure
Henry Segerstrom was awarded a Leonardo da Vinci Award from the California Confederation of the Arts in 1988 for his contributions to the arts in Orange County. (Don Tormey)

In 2011, Henry Segerstrom celebrated his 88th birthday as only someone with a lot of money and cultural clout could. He persuaded soprano Renée Fleming to fly across the country while she was in the midst of an engagement at the Metropolitan Opera to perform a one-night birthday concert in his honor in Costa Mesa.

The concert, in which Fleming performed classical and pop numbers, took place at his namesake Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the expansive Orange County venue that remains one of his most important legacies as an arts philanthropist.


Segerstrom, who died Friday at 91, was a towering figure in Orange County real estate and culture. As a developer, he and his family were the force behind South Coast Plaza, the upscale retail shopping center that is one of the largest of its kind in the U.S.

Across the street, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts continues to be the county's hub for the performing arts, presenting classical music, dance and theater.

Outside of Orange County, Henry Segerstrom was a trustee of Carnegie Hall in New York, and was an avid fan of classical music and dance companies around the world.

"He was a determined man and had high standards, and pursued his vision for great business and great culture," said Terrence Dwyer, president of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, in a phone interview. "I met him when I first took this job -- I was overwhelmed by his sense of class and how much he cared about people and the community."

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts was first known as the Orange County Performing Arts Center, created out of farmland that the Segerstrom family donated in 1979. OCPAC formally changed its name to the Segerstrom in 2011 in recognition of the family's support over the years.

The 2,000-seat Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall opened in 2006 at the center. It is named after Henry and his late second wife, who died in 2000. 

An Orange County native, Segerstrom was the grandson of  C.J. Segerstrom, and his family's fortune came from lima bean production. The younger Segerstrom was reported to have liked introducing himself in certain social situations as a farmer. 

In an interview four years ago with The Times, the philanthropist said, "I'm very proud of what the Segerstroms have done in creating these institutions, and seeing them as successful as they are."
He added: "We've provided a lot of leadership and made these things happen." 
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