The Crowd: A new focus at the Center Club

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with the expression, "The only thing permanent is change." The electronic age has ushered in a dramatic evolution in human behavior. Our devices that are computer-driven are in fact dictating how we live. In Orange County this past week, the venerable Center Club, known for its old-world ambience exemplified by its pine paneling adorned with classic plein air California landscape paintings by early 20th-century coastal artists, gave way to the demands of a new world of high-tech e-lounges, power boardrooms featuring cutting-edge video and audio technology, work stations and "club hub" rooms for meetings and private work retreats, all aimed at a different ethic that represents a new age.

More than 350 guests converged upon the grand-opening cocktail party Jan. 31 in Costa Mesa, which introduced the community to the ultra-modern Center Club revamp. It was the largest and most expensive renovation in the club's 27-year history in Orange County and was supervised by the Dallas-based ClubCorp family. The evening was created in part as a tribute to Center Club founder Henry Segerstrom, attending the evening with his wife Elizabeth Segerstrom, son Anton Segerstrom and daughter-in-law Jennifer Segerstrom. The guest of honor and his family held court in what the Center Club is calling its "Encore Lounge," an enormous room with a bar created in the center surrounded by seating and gaming areas and fronted by a media unit featuring a 103-inch flat-screen TV.

Henry and Elizabeth Segerstrom sat comfortably in an enormously oversized chocolate-brown tufted corduroy velvet sofa, joining Victoria Collins, chair of the Center Club's board of governors, and her husband, David Collins. A video chronicling Segerstrom's influence in Orange County and, in particular, his guiding role in the creation and longevity of the Center Club, played on the big screen as the crowd sampled the cocktail fare, which included selections from a massive sushi bar, sliders made of either filet mignon or buffalo chicken, and a sampling of ultra-nouvelle temptations such as winter truffle in white corn risotto and cheese steak egg rolls.

While the club has been reinvented for the new world, the opening night was definitely a gathering of the old guard. Change may be a fact of life, but so are the relationships that have made Orange County the envy of America. Business, social and cultural leaders who, like Segerstrom, have invested not just their personal financial means but also their intellectual energy in this community, came together to witness the changing of the guard. Co-chaired by Liza Krassner and Richard Ward, both Center Club governors, the party welcomed Carol and Kent Wilken, Harriet and Sandy Sandhu, Barbara and Alex Bowie, Ellie and Mike Gordon, Louis Delmonico, Ann Van Ausdeln, Leonard and Madeline Zuckerman, Dick and Pat Allen, Catherine Emmi and the Richard Van Meters. From the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Terry Dwyer and Judith Morr joined Dennis Szakacs, director of the Orange County Museum of Art. Previous Center boss Jerry Mandel was in the crowd performing on sax for the evening, which was enjoyed by partygoers Pamela Paul, Larane Rodnick and Alexandra Chebil. Monica Ruggieri was spotted in the crowd, as was City National Bank's Jennifer Van Bergh.

ClubCorp generously shared the success of the evening with three charities: the Orange County Museum of Art, celebrating its 50th anniversary as a museum of contemporary art in Southern California, joined the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. and its ALS division focusing on treatment and cures for Lou Gehrig's Disease, and the ClubCorp Employee Partners Care Foundation, funded to assist ClubCorp employee families in times of crisis.

THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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