Henry T. Segerstrom, the managing partner of South Coast Plaza and founding chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center that has since been renamed Segerstrom Center for the Arts, died a little more than an hour ago. He was 91.
From a family of Swedish farmers, Segerstrom and his cousin Hal turned their former lima bean fields north of the 405 freeway into South Coast Plaza, which opened in 1967 and whose PR people have corrected me more than once over the years for referring to it as a Costa Mesa shopping mall. "It is a shopping experience."
One of the most popular mal–I mean–experiences in the world, South Coast Plaza would spawn the South Coast Metro business district of Costa Mesa/Santa Ana around it. I remember hearing a rumor years ago that the Segerstroms had grown so tired of dealing with city hall yokels that they tried to get Newport Beach to annex South Coast Metro.
Segerstrom led the efforts to build the county's premiere performing arts venue, which opened in 1986. I saw many amazing operas, musicals, jazz shows, orchestra performances and especially dance programs there over the years, including Mikhail Baryshnikov and his dance company entertaining with Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor in the audience. (I also saw some clunker musicals there, in the interest of full disclosure.)
Oh, one last rumor I'd heard years ago: While South Coast Plaza pulled in the dollars, where Segerstrom really made money was off the parking structure next to the Segerstrom Center. Who knows if that was true; he and his family were very secretive.
No matter what you thought of him, he left a lasting legacy for that chunk of Orange County.