The 14-acre multidisciplinary campus Segerstrom Center for the Arts includes the South Coast Repertory Theatre, Segerstrom Hall, The Samueli Theatre, and the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, and will eventually include the Orange County Museum of Art.
The Segerstrom Center for the Arts serves the metropolitan area of Orange County and its region’s three million inhabitants. Its development represents a deliberate effort by the Segerstrom family to demonstrate that art and cultural amenities are major components of a vital urban center. From the first study made in 1988 for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, until the mid-1990s, the architect Cesar Pelli was identified to master plan the performing arts projects and other expansions.
During this period however, other professionals were assembled to help build the various performing arts institutions. Although Interest in a multipurpose facility in Orange County can be traced as far back as 1946, long before a master scheme for a performing arts complex was envisioned, it was not until 1972 that actual plans for the area’s first performing arts establishment commenced. The first plan was for the South Coast Repertory Theatre, a company that was looking for a location to build and expand its theatre. The Segerstrom family agreed to donate one acre of land adjacent to the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel. Additionally, the Segerstroms pledged a cash gift of $50,000 to the theatre’s construction fund, as well as arranging for theatre parking.
The architects Ladd, Kelsey and Woodard designed and built the South Coast Repertory Theatre that opened in 1978. During the mid-1990s, when plans for the theatre’s expansion were underway, the Segerstrom family pledged $200,000 towards the undertaking.
In 1946 the genesis for a performing arts center began when Catherine Quick, a Santa Ana resident, approached Santa Ana officials about building a performing arts center on surplus military property but nothing came of this concept. In 1954 the Orange County Philharmonic Society was founded to present visiting orchestras, a mission made difficult by the absence of an acoustically adequate hall. In 1965 a group in nearby Fullerton considered building a major performing arts center there, as did Newport Beach in 1970 but studies showed a lack of community financial support. The focus then swung back to Santa Ana, where the business community leader’s crusade for a music center started up again. A small group of citizens formed a community orchestra with aspirations for creating a multipurpose hall for the performing arts. During this early stage, the orchestra played in the various college and local high school auditoriums and took the name, The Orange County Music Center.
In May 1979, the Orange County Music Center’s president, Elaine Redfield, approached Henry Segerstrom about another possible donation of land. Spearheading the search for a site for the Orange County Music Center, Redfield publicized nineteen prospective locations, from the University of California at Irvine to a ten-acre gift of land in Orange. None were deemed suitable.
Three existing county arts organizations—the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, the Pacific Symphony, and the Pacific Chorale—needed a concert hall with seating and acoustics appropriate for both their needs and the caliber of their artists. Henry Segerstrom and his family agreed to donate five prime acres of land adjacent to the South Coast Repertory Theatre as well as a cash gift of one million dollars to launch the performing arts center. The request for land presented an opportunity for the Segerstrom family—which had been part of the community for nearly ninety years—to make a contribution of lasting value, one that would represent the family’s dedication to Orange County for generations. In 1981, the center’s name was officially changed from the Orange County Music Center to the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The architect Charles E. Lawrence, of Caudill, Rowlett, Scott Architects (CRS) designed the center and A. Harold Marshall, Dennis Paoletti, and Jerald R. Hyde were chosen to design the acoustics. The contractor, C.L. Peck, announced that he would build the center without taking a profit. The asymmetrical design of the building would have an advanced acoustical system and excellent sightlines.
Henry Segerstrom took on the fundraising and leadership roles in the development of the Performing Arts Center, later serving as the first chairman of the operating entity. In 1980, Henry Segerstrom agreed to serve as chairman of the trustees. The joint efforts by Henry Segerstrom and the trustees raised funds that ultimately covered the entire cost of the building project by opening night. One year before the performing arts center opened, Henry Segerstrom hired Len Bedsow to manage the artistic direction of the center. Bedsow hired Thomas Kendrick and Judy Morr away from their positions at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in order to lead the Orange County Performing Arts Center into the future.
On September 29, 1986, the Orange County Performing Arts Center opened with the soprano Leontyne Price inaugurating the center, singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ along with Zubin Mehta conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Orange County Performing Arts Center is one of the nation’s most innovative and technically advanced structures for the performing arts. Its 3,000-seat multipurpose theatre designed with a proscenium stage was named Segerstrom Hall the year it opened. It was only the second full-scale opera house in California. The gridirons of Segerstrom Hall are nineteen feet higher than those of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. A Founders’ Hall was designed as a versatile black box-style space suitable for many purposes and occasions,
with a 65-foot-wide room and a 26-foot-wide raised stage. Multiple staging and seating configurations made it possible for performances, rehearsals, cocktail gatherings, meetings, seminars, and special events. The Performing Arts Center is Orange County’s largest nonprofit arts organization, built entirely through private funding. Its international programming has included performances of the Royal Ballet of London, with Rudolf Nureyev in a minor role, the Grand Kabuki, and operas by Gilbert and Sullivan, earning the Center a reputation as one of the leading presenters of dance and music, bringing award-winning musicals from Broadway and some of the world’s most important classical, jazz, and cabaret artists to Orange County.
After the Performing Arts Center opened, Henry Segerstrom continued to advance and expand his visions for a comprehensive cultural complex in Orange County. During Henry Segerstrom’s term as chairman of the board of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in the late 1980s, ideas for building a smaller theatre of 800 to 1,200 seats were considered so that the South Coast Repertory Theatre could use this smaller auditorium for extended runs of its most popular plays. A feasibility study was commissioned and the results showed that the performing arts had become a vital and essential infrastructure component for Orange County residents. In fact, the study showed an even larger facility was desired. Consequently it was decided that a concert hall would be the next phase in the growth of the Orange County performing arts fulcrum and the third facility in the plan for a comprehensive arts complex. In 1995 Henry Segerstrom was honored and named founding chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The reality for a Segerstrom Center for the Arts was then in place.
In 1999 the Segerstrom family donated six acres for a proposed 2,000-seat concert hall, a 500-seat theatre, and land for the relocation site for the Orange County Museum of Art, as well as a centralized public plaza area. The gift also incorporated additional land for the South Coast Repertory Theatre to add its third audience area stage. The fund-raising for the new concert hall began when Henry Segerstrom provided the lead gift of $40 million to the Center’s $200 million capital campaign. This was the largest charitable cash gift in the history of Orange County. In recognition of this cornerstone gift, the new concert hall was named the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, in honor of Henry Segerstrom’s late wife. The 500-seat theatre was designated Samueli Theatre in recognition of the $10 million gift from the Henry Samueli family. Later in the campaign, Henry Segerstrom would personally commit another $11 million, raising the total to $51 million.
The Samueli Theatre is housed within the concert hall. It was designed as an intimate, flexible space able to accommodate a wide variety of small- to medium-sized performance types. The plan for the expansion of the South Coast Repertory Theatre was also advanced. The Theatre opened in a newly expanded facility in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, with the Folino Theatre Center, encompassing the 507-seat Segerstrom Stage, the 336-seat Julianne Argyros Stage, and the Nicholas Studio.
On July 7, 2003, ground was broken for the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects organized the complex around a large ‘Plaza of the Arts’ and intended the concert hall to be an elegant and vibrant sculptural form that glows in the Southern California light. On its south, east, and west sides, the building is a composition of solid limestone forms. The exception is the entrance to the smaller Samueli Family Theatre, where a tall glass lobby creates a large and dramatic marquee. The main entrance to the hall is all glass but faces north so it is naturally protected from the sun. The undulating wall of white glass creates an ever-changing composition of reflections, transparencies, and highlights.
The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall accommodates up to 2,000 audience members. The shoebox-shaped hall features three, silver-leafed, acoustical canopies that mark the interior. Silver leaf, applied to the gently curving ribbons of the canopy, forms a shimmering ceiling, reflecting the colors of both the performers and audience below. The pipes for the organ are also silvery—some formed of metal, and others in wood covered with silver leaf. The silver pipes and the canopy were designed so that the canopy will appear as almost an extension of the organ itself, reinforcing the fluid movement of the design in concert with the flow of sound.
The architects note that the ribbons of the canopy relate to the curving forms of the concert hall balconies, the lobby ceiling, and the glass facade. The room is equipped with acoustic-control chambers, which, in conjunction with the adjustable canopies, create ideal performance conditions for large symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, chorales, and solo instrumentalists and vocalists. The adjustable acoustic curtains and banners bring additional flexibility to the acoustical capabilities of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. An adjustable orchestra pit can be potentially used for extra seating stage space. The Concert Hall includes a music library, two large orchestra chambers for rehearsals, eight individual rehearsal rooms, and fifteen dressing rooms.
On January 12, 2011, the name of the complex was officially changed to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The new name honors the extraordinary contributions of the Segerstrom family, whose unwavering commitment has been at the core of the Center’s success.
– Bonnie Rychlak