Arts champion Elaine Redfield dies

Elaine Redfield, a longtime Orange County arts advocate whose campaign for a local performance center led to the creation of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, has died at the age of 96.

The coroner's office did not have information available on the cause of death, but the county Public Health agency confirmed Thursday that Redfield died Sunday.

A New York City native, Redfield grew up three blocks from Carnegie Hall and honed her love of music by listening to her mother play the piano, according to a statement on the Philharmonic Society of Orange County's website. She moved to Orange County in 1950 and, four years later, co-founded the Philharmonic Society, which supports concerts and music education.

While Redfield's influence can be seen in many places around the region, it is most apparent at 600 Town Center Drive. Redfield, who was an active supporter of local groups such as South Coast Repertory and the UC Irvine library, wrote to developer Henry T. Segerstrom in 1979 with a request for a land parcel adjacent to SCR that could serve as a concert mecca.

"I think many organizations have little stories that become part of their lore and their legend, and certainly the story — which is a true story — of her writing that letter is part of the center history and legend," said Segerstrom Center spokesman Tim Dunn.

The Los Angeles Times, which dubbed Redfield a "moneymaker for music," reported on her vision in August 1979: "The dream that inspires Mrs. Redfield, her board and the volunteers is the vision of a music center that will be 'first-class all the way' ... Yes, she mused, what they have in mind — in conjunction with South Coast Repertory — could give Orange County a center comparable to such Eastern cultural complexes as the Kennedy and Lincoln centers."

The Segerstrom family came through with the donation, and Redfield, who chaired the support group for the venue, took a leave of absence from her interior design business and led fundraising efforts to have the structure built. The Orange County Performing Arts Center, later renamed the Segerstrom Center, opened in 1986.

As to whether the center fulfilled Redfield's dream of a major concert venue, a partial list of performers who appeared there in the past year — B.B. King, Alice Cooper, Boz Scaggs, the Beach Boys, Kenny G and Bernadette Peters — should provide some kind of answer.

In the years before the center's opening, Redfield served as chairwoman of its board of directors and president of its board of trustees. Her name was a staple of society columns over the years as she lent her backing to the Pacific Symphony, Opera Pacific and the Newport Harbor Art Museum.

Philharmonic Society President Dean Corey, who knew Redfield for more than 20 years, said he made a point of sitting next to her at concerts simply because of her encyclopedic knowledge.

"She had a great insight of what was going on," he said. "From her many years of being in New York, she knew a lot of the opera stars. They were friends of hers."

A memorial service for Redfield, who was predeceased by her husband, William, took place Wednesday morning at Pacific View Memorial Park and Mortuary in Corona del Mar.

[For the record, 11:54 p.m. Jan. 9: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Elaine Refield died Friday. In fact, she died Sunday, according to the county Public Health agency.]

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