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Inside, They Toasted Orange County’s Coming of Age

Times Staff Writer

With trumpeters sounding a fanfare as they arrived, Orange County’s rich and famous gathered Monday night to inaugurate the Performing Arts Center.

Inside the lobby, sipping champagne from long-stemmed glasses, were the county’s leaders, including leading supporters of the Center, decked out in their finest. Women’s attire ran the gamut from mink to gold lame. Among the men, there was a scattering of suits and sport coats, but most said they were wearing their own tuxedos.

The theme they sounded was nearly unanimous: Orange County was coming of age.

“It’s blinding,” said Pat Neisser of Newport Beach. “I’ve never been so proud of anything in my entire life.” The county, she said, “has grown up. We’ve waited so long for this.”

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“We’re no longer the cultural suburb of Los Angeles,” added her husband, Carl.

“Orange County has already had the climate, the scenery and the education,” said UC Irvine Chancellor Jack W. Peltason. “Now, culturally we’re in the big leagues, too.”

Dr. Matthew Jenkins of Fullerton recalled “going to meetings and giving money for 10 years, now.” The opening, he said, is “a culmination of a lot of effort.” Jenkins said he hoped that “this will pull the cultural elements of the county together.”

“We’ve arrived,” said Felicia Burkaty, also of Fullerton, who volunteered that she planned to attend every performance.

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Mark Haunfelner of Irvine said the opening was “an innovative and forward-looking development for the county.” However, he admitted to a few “mixed feelings” about the Center, saying he was concerned that “we’re not being as inclusive as we might be about a Center that belongs to the entire community.”

“This is a very exciting event,” said Supervisor Thomas F. Riley. “Orange County has grown tremendously in the last decade. This achievement puts Orange County where it ought to be: second to none as a place to live.”

“I think it’s a wonder,” said Anton Segerstrom, who admitted that, as a member of the well-known clan of developers, he was not an impartial observer. C.J. Segerstrom & Sons Inc. donated $6 million and the land on which the center is located to the arts complex.

Later on, at intermission, much of the talk concerned the quality of the acoustics, which generally were pronounced excellent, with a few complaints from the upper reaches of the hall.

Carrie Ellington, of Huntington Beach, who said she was working as an usher in order to hear the program, said, “You could hear a pin drop, and with a symphony that’s important. I think Orange County needs this.”

The first half of the program “was really very impressive,” said former U.S. Atty. Gen. William French Smith, “as is this facility. I think it could really be classified as an historic occasion.”


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