Crystal Court opened in 1986 as an extension of South Coast Plaza, but did not meet original sales projections. A bridge, it was determined, would require a 600-foot pedestrian walkway across Bear Street that would stretch from the third floor of Crystal Court—renamed South Coast Plaza West—to the main plaza center, that would enable shoppers to visit both sections of the shopping complex without having to drive or wait for traffic to walk across the street.
Henry Segerstrom proposed this bridge but did not want it made of precast sections. He could easily have hired a construction company to build a simple bridge but instead he conducted an international search for a designer who would create a bridge in which the aesthetic and practical elements would be equally important. In the early 1990s, Henry attended an architectural conference at Stanford University where Peter Walker and a number of prominent landscape architects were speaking and learned of Katherine Gustafson and her work as a landscape architect. Gustafson had established her practice in Paris in 1980 and worked in collaboration with architects, artists, and engineers on varied projects. Henry Segerstrom was highly impressed with Gustafson’s realized projects and concepts and made immediate contact with her to discuss the possibility of a commission to design a bridge and garden as the link between the two shopping centers. He had some very definite ideas of his own about what was needed. A sloping grass element outside one of the stores presented some air rights opportunities, so Segerstrom had the idea to include a sloping grass area and to literally raise it and make it into a platform on stilts that would create an open-air garden. He saw this concept as the perfect launch site for a bridge to Crystal Court.
Additionally, Henry wanted a reinforced concrete poured-in-place bridge and fortunately, one of the nation’s largest bridge design firms was located in Orange County. Both Segerstrom and Gustafson agreed it would be a difficult project and many Segerstrom family members thought it was overly ambitious and that it would be unused. In fact, the opposite proved true. The walk across the bridge takes only ninety seconds from one end to the other. Only a few months after the public opening of the bridge and garden, the foot count was at 25,000 people a day. According to the plan, the slightly curved bridge is made of galvanized steel and perforated stainless steel panels. Ranging from 17 to 19 feet in width, the walkway is planted with pink bougainvillea in planters that line the walkway and spill out onto steel wings extending along the length of the bridge. At the south end of the bridge, the walkway ends in an expanse of sandstone that delivers pedestrians to a half-acre Mediterranean garden bordered by a cascading waterfall. Access to the bridge is also available by an elevator encased in pale blue grass. With a rain of confetti, a flock of circling doves, and dramatic brass band fanfare, the Bridge of Gardens was formally introduced to a VIP crowd at South Coast Plaza on Thursday, September 28, 2000.