On March 15, South Coast Plaza will officially mark its 50th anniversary. But South Coast Plaza being South Coast Plaza, that’s just the launch of a yearlong celebration of not one of the most famous shopping experiences in the world, but also the entrepreneural, civic, and artistic legacy that the Segerstrom family wrought from acres and acres of lima bean fields. Multiple restaurants in the South Coast Metro area will host special dinners and entrees, the Segerstrom Center and its arty cousins plan world premieres, and big-name boutiques at the mothership are already getting ready to offer limited-time items exclusive to South Coast—I’d tell you the names of those boutiques, but my fashion knowledge ends at Pendleton and Dickies.
To kick it off, the Segerstroms held a special dinner yesterday at Water Grill limited to a super-select group of people picked not so much for their money as for their friendship with them over the years. Seen at the scene: Vaca’s Amar Santana; Donna Bunce and Ann Conway, longtime society columnists for the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times, respectively; longtime chronicler of OC’s Gucci set Kedric Francis; Orange County Business Journal editor Jerry Sullivan, ever dapper in his fedora…and me, for some reason. No, seriously: What was I doing there?
For the history. A large photograph of Henry T. Segerstrom in front of the first billboard to advertise South Coast Plaza—back when the Metro area was still being tilled by the Segerstroms and Sakiokas, among other immigrant families—was front and center before the private dining room; to its left was a shot of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for May Co., one of their original tenants. In the center of that photo was a young Anton Segerstrom; last night, adult Anton gave a brief but incredibly informative and humble history of South Coast—how involved in the original marketing was Jay Chiat, whose firm would go on to create the legendary “1984” Super Bowl ad for Apple’s Macintosh; how Frank Gehry helped out in the design of one of the original boutiques; how South Coast convinced the luxury retailers to open beyond their usual Beverly Hills/NYC routine (he name-dropped Courrèges, one of the claimants to inventing the mini-skirt). Anton even talked about chauffeuring Isamu Noguchi from Los Angeles to South Coast and talking architecture and design with the legend “back in my college days, when I was really into philosophy,” he joked.
Guests were then treated to a four-course dinner, with a fabulous Chilean sea bass lightly seared in brown butter and on top of a cauliflower puree and lemon chutney as the entree. But the true star of the evening were, of course, lima beans: buttery, decadent and accompanied with bacon and kale. I never liked lima beans growing up, but these were so huge and creamy that I forgot what they were and figured they were fava beans as I aimlessly hogged them up. Then Kedric said something about how cool it was that the Segerstroms still keep a plot of their original farmland so that the younger generation doesn’t forget their roots. “That’s RIGHT!” I exclaimed. “The lima beans!”
The Weekly has always joked about South Coast Plaza, because how can we not? But this is true: Among OC’s lords, the Segerstroms have always been one of the few to take their noblesse oblige seriously and humbly. I’ll never forget how, when Costa Mesa was getting hijacked in the mid-2000s by anti-immigrant loons like Allan Mansoor (who’s now back on the council—UGH…), Henry donated to good Republicans, back when they were a thing. Stories I’ve heard of him and others over the years have been nothing but complimentary unlike, say, the Argyroses and Nicholases. So to see the family serve lima beans at their special dinner was not only historical and delicious, it rooted the Segerstroms in OC history—literally.
So I took the above, cheap shot, tipsy as I was on the Veuve Clicquot Brut, ever the Nick Carraway. God bless you, Segerstroms, and thank God y’all ain’t like that asshole down the 405, Don Bren…