Henry T. Segerstrom, the managing partner of South Coast Plaza and founding chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center which bears his family’s name, died Friday. He was 91.
Segerstrom “was still managing partner right until the end,” said South Coast Plaza spokeswoman Debra Gunn Downing. “He’s going to be sadly missed. It’s a huge loss for us.”
Segerstrom had homes in Orange County and New York and divided his time between both coasts, Downing said.
Sired in a lima-bean farming family, the Stanford Business School graduate opened South Coast Plaza with his cousin, Hal Segerstrom Jr., in 1967.
He was well known for his philanthropy, donating $40 million in 2000 to expand the then-named Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Segerstrom built South Coast Plaza into a retail powerhouse with $1.7 billion annual sales much the way his Swedish-immigrant family developed its farm.
A born leader, he was elected president of his class at Santa Ana High School and was admitted to Stanford University when he was 17. His academic tour became a military tour after Pearl Harbor and he enlisted in the Army to serve in World War II, where he learned one of his favorite catchphrases, “Be bold.”
He rose to the rank of captain in 1944 and was seriously wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, which earned him a Purple Heart. While recuperating he earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Stanford.
He took his family’s lima bean business into real estate development and built the first air-conditioned office building in Orange County — a seven- story bank, according to a South Coast Plaza biography.
His focus was on luxury, upscale shopping as he drew high-end brand names such as Yves Saint Laurent, Hermes, Dior, Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
His life as a booster of the arts in Orange County began with the acquisition and commissioning of sculptures for his business, including works by such artistic luminaries as Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, Joan Miro, and Jean Dubuffet.
In 1976, he branched into theater, providing land for South Coast Repertory Theatre Company.
Four years later, he founded the Orange County Performing Arts Center and led an entirely privately funded $74 million capital campaign that built a 3,000-seat hall and endowment.
Next up, was a symphony hall with Segerstrom pledging $40 million, which eventually reached $51 million that culminated in the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, which opened in 2006. South Coast Repertory Theatre was expanded nearby on land also donated by his family.
In 2011, the arts campus was re-christened the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
He partnered with Carnegie Hall in 2009 to bring some of its acts here.
He was also a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Los Angeles and served on the Orange County Water District board for more than two decades.
South Coast Plaza issued a biography of Segerstrom that declared:
“International leaders of business, luxury retailing, fashion, architecture, art and culture held Mr. Segerstrom in the highest esteem. He was a friend, colleague and patron of influential artists, designers and other creative minds, including Isamu Noguchi, Placido Domingo, Richard Serra, Valery Gergiev and Cesar Pelli.
“Henry T. Segerstrom leaves behind an unparalleled legacy of dedicated community leadership and a lifelong commitment to Southern California. Mr. Segerstrom’s vision, work ethic and unerring aesthetic helped transform a largely agricultural region in a diverse and thriving center of art and culture, innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership in business and techhnology.”
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and his children Andrea, Toren and Anton.
A public visitation and tribute is scheduled for Feb. 28 at Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana.
— City News Service