Paved Paradise

Shiny and new. Photo courtesy OCPAC

If most of Orange County seems to have sprung up overnight, it's because it did—at least on a geologic time scale. Wherever you're reading this, chances are 50 years ago, you would have been up to your shins in lima beans and cow manure. If not for the vision of Henry Segerstrom, the man who, for better or worse, turned Orange County from citrus groves to cosmopolitan shopping plazas, you'd still be able to find some cheap land to homestead and raise some goats north of Mission Viejo. But hey, what's livestock and a shack compared to a designer dog and a condo? By developing his farmland into South Coast Plaza, a commercial mecca intended to rival anything Los Angeles had to offer, and then offering state planners 50 acres of Costa Mesa real estate through which to run the newly proposed 405 freeway, Segerstrom ensured South Coast Plaza would remain smack-dab in the way of anyone trying to get south of LA, and the money just poured in.

Going somewhat against the grain of Orange County land-baron tradition, Segerstrom realized that with great power comes great responsibility and re-invested some of his wealth into the community by funding the Orange County Performing Arts Center and South Coast Repertory. Say what you will about the effect South Coast Plaza has had on the OC zeitgeist, but even the most hardened Socialist bomb thrower can admit there have been some pretty outstanding productions at SCR and the center. Even South Coast Plaza has some cultural benefits: Orange County residents on a limited budget can experience all the snobbery they might expect from your higher class Rodeo Drive boutiques without having to shell out additional money for gas.

An hourlong radio documentary focusing on the opening of the new Segerstrom Hall airs Friday on KUSC-FM 91.5, immediately followed by a broadcast of the opening-night gala concert. If you haven't been able to get tickets to the show, you can still buy a day-planning/golf-ball-polishing/temple-massaging radio from Brookstone and tune in to reflect on a time when people didn't have to ask why it's called "Orange" County.

Transforming OC: A Documentary Celebrating the Opening of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and Samueli Theater will air on KUSC-FM 91.5. Fri., 6 p.m.

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