Dressing to the 10s : OCPAC and Special Guests Turn Out in Full Glamour for Anniversary Bash
Ann Conway
Tuesday, September 10, 1996

The original article was published by
Los Angeles Times.

Walls scrubbed and Fire Bird sculpture polished, the Orange County Performing Arts Center celebrated its 10th anniversary Sunday, drawing 1,200 guests to a $500-per-person concert and dinner.

With all of its glitter–guests paraded in baubles that looked like they’d just been yanked from the safe–the occasion had the glamour of a Hollywood premiere.

But this was Orange County performing arts society doing what it does best–coming together in grand style to raise funds. During the past decade, supporters have raised $14 million to help defray operating costs. Sunday night’s total: a whopping $550,000. Net.

On the scene were center society’s creme de la creme, including Henry and Renee Segerstrom, Ruth Segerstrom, George and Judie Argyros, Mark and Barbara Johnson, Larry and Dee Higby, Byron and Ronnie Allumbaugh and Timothy and Susan Strader.

Forty valet attendants parked guests’ cars in the vacant lot across from the center.

Sweeping into the center lobby for a reception, the crowd was serenaded by violinists as they sipped Mumm’s champagne and talked about the thrill of it all.

Observed Thomas Kendrick, the center’s founding president: “It’s wonderful to stand here and think–after all the skepticism about whether it would be built, and if it was, who would come–that it is now 3,000 performances and 6 million attendees later. That answers the question.”

Said his wife, Judith Morr, director of programming and acting chief operating officer: “To think that the many people who made the center happen are mostly all here tonight! My dream for the next 10 years is that the community continues to believe this is the place for the performing arts in Orange County. Absolutely.”

An ebullient Henry Segerstrom–whose family donated the land and millions to the project when it was still a dream–also looked to the future: “We may surprise ourselves on our 20th anniversary by just how much we have accomplished.”

A new orchestra hall may be the center’s next project. “And I hope that comes along before our 20th,” Segerstrom added.

The invitations stipulated black-tie and–despite the sweltering heat–guests dressed formally but left their furs at home.

“Furs–not tonight!” said fashion pacesetter Patti Edwards, wife of Edwards Theater executive James Edwards III. “Controversial or not, a fur would be too hot.” Edwards–dressed in a black column gown sprinkled with black crystals–carried her jacket over her left arm. “Maybe I’ll need this later and maybe I won’t,” she said.

Trial layer Wylie Aitken defied the dress code, arriving at the affair in a pinstripe suit and traditional tie. “I wore this to a dinner with President Clinton, so I figured it was good enough for tonight–even in Orange County,” joked Aitken, who attended with his wife, Bette.

Preparations were extensive for the gala that featured a classical concert in Segerstrom Hall and an alfresco dinner in the center’s Carriage Circle. Not only was its carpet shampooed and its interior wood paneling oiled, the grassy knoll that fronted the center had been dismantled–sprinkler system and all–to make way for a white dance floor. Guests danced there between courses of beef tenderloin and crab cake whipped up by Four Seasons chefs Urs Balmer, Eric Brennan, Michel Pieton and Donald Wressel.

“If we’d left the mound in place, it would have interfered with guests’ sight lines,” explained Catherine Thyen, who chaired the gala with Arden Flamson. “They couldn’t have seen who was on the other side. And we couldn’t have guests wondering if they were on the wrong side of the mound.”

For dinner, the best seats–reserved for gala underwriters–were closest to the Fire Bird, a sculpture by Richard Lippold that shines above the center’s second-level balcony. Cartier Inc. underwrote the party scene’s high-style look–white-on-white tablecloths, flowers and chairs in satiny slipcovers.

During the concert, which featured pianist Emanuel Ax, mezzo soprano Jennifer Larmore, baritone Gino Quilico and Carl St.Clair conducting the Pacific Symphony, the best seats were in the first tier and the orchestra.

The center’s chairman, Mark Johnson, seemed to speak for the happy crowd when he told guests the center has given Orange County “a focus and a soul it never had before.”

Henry Segerstrom, standing before guests with his wife, Renee–resplendent in diamonds at her throat and ears–addressed the gala crowd: “Seventeen years ago, Orange County committed to a performing arts center of international stature and reputation. As a county, we were not yet 100 years old . . . and so it was, with resolve, that we boldly reached into our hearts and plucked this shooting star of cultural dreams and brought it to Earth on this spot.”

Also among the guests: Ted and Mary Jean Simpkins, Eugene and Ruth Ann Moriarty, Tom and Joyce Tucker, Floss and Ed Schumacher, William Gillespie, Janice and Roger Johnson, Tom and Marilyn Nielsen, Don and Joan Beall, Zee Allred, Godfrey and Laurel Wilkening, James and Nancy Baldwin, Arlene and George Cheng and Ruth Ding.

Also attending were Mary Roosevelt, Michele Rohe, Shari and Harry Esayian, Barbara and Jim Glabman, Gloria and Irv Gellman, Elizabeth and Tom Tierney, Jo Ellen Qualls, Carol and Kent Wilken, Carl and Margaret Karcher, Rick and Nancy Muth, Peter and Mary Muth, William Lund, Ygal and Sheila Prell Sonenshine, Claudette and Don Shaw, and Gus Owen and Kathryn Thompson.

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