Count the Segerstroms In as Arts Center Celebrates 10

Henry Segerstrom laughs when he remembers that day in 1979 when someone asked him: " What do we do now ?"

The Segerstrom family had just made a donation of five acres and $1 million to the board of the proposed Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

"They had gotten more than they expected," the managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons--owner of South Coast Plaza--said last week, during an interview at the center. "They weren't sure what to do next. But the family donations, we know, gave them confidence."

After chipping in another $5 million to the center's building fund and heading the effort to raise the $73 million needed for its construction, Segerstrom saw the center open Sept. 29, 1986, with thousands of arts lovers attending a gala performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Now, nine years and more than 2,600 performances later, the center is embarking on a yearlong 10th-anniversary celebration, with Segerstrom and his wife, Renee, as co-chairmen.

Friday night's Center of Fashion extravaganza in Segerstrom Hall marked the anniversary kickoff. Festivities will continue Dec. 7 with a performance for 13,000 people by the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra at The Pond in Anaheim. The celebration will culminate on Sept. 7 with a black-tie gala dinner and performance at the center in Costa Mesa.

"When we started with the center," said Segerstrom, 72, as he relaxed in the center boardroom, "our purpose was to bring all of the county's communities together again.

"I can speak to the fact that when I was growing up here, there were only three or four cities-- Santa Ana, Fullerton, Anaheim . . . Newport Beach had only about 2,500 people," he said.

"There was an integration of cultural and social activity and very little cognizance of city boundaries.

"Then, when the population grew so fast, city after city, we began to fracture. But the Performing Arts Center has put a shield over that--pulled the county back together again. No question about it."

The purpose of the yearlong celebration is to hold a mirror up to the community.

"The community has accomplished something quite remarkable," said Segerstrom, who lives in Newport Beach. "The support for the center goes far beyond just those who are active in its support groups. We need this market area to buy tickets, to respond to its programming. And it has."

Said Renee Segerstrom: "It used to be that we knew just about everybody who attended a performance at the center. Now, when we go, Henry and I just look at each other and wonder, 'Where are all of these people coming from?' It's amazing! Wonderful!

"I think the center has been a total education for the county. People have been able to experience the kind of activity that creates a metropolitan area."

For Henry Segerstrom, one of the center's social highlights was the party staged in 1989 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dana Point following a center performance by the Kirov Ballet.

"Those young Russians all came to the hotel for the party. . . . They could not speak English," he said. "And I remember making some comments, telling them that our hall was totally privately funded. They were still under the Communist regime at the time.

"I remember the way they danced, that their director, Oleg Vinogradov, put on a cowboy hat and sang, 'Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley.'

"That was a fun night."

The couple will split the duties of their chairmanship, with Henry helping center board member Kenneth Stevens raise the donations that will pay for the anniversary celebration.

Renee will provide input to Catherine Thyen, chairwoman of both the Dec. 7 Candlelight Concert and the Sept. 7 gala finale.

"We're good at co-chairing things," Henry Segerstrom said, flashing a smile at his wife. "We do it all the time at home."


Fashion statement: Proving again that fashion is theater, the Guilds of the Orange County Performing Arts Center staged its fifth--and best ever--Center of Fashion benefit on Friday in Segerstrom Hall.

Thousands attended the matinee and evening performances that featured everything from handsome earth-tone silhouettes (Escada) to flirty, cut-to-there cocktail dresses in candy pink (Gianni Versace).

The two-hour show began with a Charlie Chaplin look-alike coming on stage with Natalie Cole's recorded rendition of "Smile" providing the musical backdrop. As he stood there, tapping his cane, tweaking his mustache, Chaplin watched as images of old Hollywood were flashed upon a huge screen.

Talk about setting a mood. You could have heard a hatpin drop, as guests, hypnotized by bigger-than-life photographs of Valentino and Mary Pickford, turned their minds to romance.

Enter Fred and Ginger, who floated across the stage as fashions from Nordstrom were showcased by volunteer and professional models.

Then, after three chiffon panels were lowered to the stage, the St. John Fall/Winter collection was on view. Highlight: a super-short metallic animal print skirt topped by a black top accented with leopard lapels.

The show's producer-director, Jim Bates--who has produced variety specials for NBC-TV as well as national musical theater productions--used high-energy music in most segments. He also created unique scenic backdrops for each fashion display.

Escada's collection, for example, inspired a scene from Spain, complete with flamenco dancers. Clothes from Rebel were showcased between towering palms while Tahitian dancers shimmied on stage.

At the beginning of the second act on Friday night, center Chairman Tom Nielsen proclaimed the event the official "opening of the center's 10th anniversary season."

"It was exactly nine years ago today that the center opened," he added, as guests applauded.

Honored during the festivities were center volunteers James Bogenreif, Gary Babick, Betty Belden-Palmer, Maxine Gibson, Susan Strader, Georgia Hull-Spooner and Pat Felbinger.

Guilds Chairwoman Jeanette Kleist told the audience that the guilds had raised $7 million for the center.

Shari Esayian was chairwoman of the fashion extravaganza, which also previewed collections by Armoire, the Bride, At-Ease, Bullock's, Chez Lui, Ermenegildo Zegna, Garys Per Donna, Niketown, Out of Santa Fe, Mi Place, Priorities and TSE.

The event's co-sponsors were South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and Fashion Island of Newport Beach.

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