Henry Thomas Segerstrom (1923-2015) is perhaps best remembered for transforming a swath of once inconspicuous Orange County CA into a thriving commercial and cultural hub. But his far reaching influence in fashion and the arts was evident at the gathering of prominent personalities -including Macy’s executive chairman Terry Lundgren, soprano Renée Fleming, Burberry’s Tomasso De Vecchi, interior designer Marshall Watson, Fern Mallis, author Michael Gross, and publisher Prosper Assouline for the New York premiere of the documentary “Henry T. Segerstrom: Imagining the Future” hosted by his widow Elizabeth Segerstrom. The film, narrated by television and stage star Matthew Morrison, profiles the much admired philanthropist with insights from architect Frank Gehry, Carnegie Hall executive and artistic director Sir Clive Gillinson, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland, Hermès Paris president and CEO Bob Chavez, and Philharmonia Orchestra principal conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.
After serving active Army duty during WWII and completing his master’s degree in business from Stanford University, Mr. Segerstrom joined the family concern. At the time, the Segerstroms were the country’s largest independent lima bean producers. And Mr. Segerstrom would henceforth introduce himself to everyone as a farmer. This assertion would assume profound metaphoric significance as his unwavering and infectious enthusiasm for nurturing fruitful ventures emerged. In 1969, he built South Coast Plaza on a section of his family’s fields as a shopping destination and spent years wielding his considerable charm to bring in luxury brands like Chanel, Saks, Barneys, and Cartier.
His gentlemanly demeanor belied a steely tenacity in service of the community’s cultural enrichment. Through his personal largesse and civic commitment, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts evolved out of his family’s initial donation of a parcel of land and seed funding for a concert hall in Orange County. Today, it has grown into a 14-acre complex for its resident companies and regularly hosts world class orchestras, theater and dance companies from Broadway, Vienna, and Berlin. He sought out and persuaded prestigious artists such as Isamu Noguchi, Joan Miró, Henry Spencer Moore, Richard Lippold, Alexander Calder, and Richard Serra to create spectacular pieces and structures there. Among these stands the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, designed by architect Cesar Pelli, honoring the ardent support of Mr. Segerstrom and his then wife Renée De Troyes (who died in 2000).
The documentary on the life of Henry T. Segerstron, which airs on tri-state public television stations Thirteen March 31 and WLIW21 April 2, is a testament to the indelible legacy of an extraordinary man’s steadfast vision and assiduous patronage of the arts.
Images: Henry T. Segerstrom © Estate of Yousuf Karsh/”Connector” by Richard Serra photography ©Adrian Gaut/The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall courtesy of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts