By Charles E. Lawrence | C.L. Peck
When in 1981 the Orange County Music Center officially changed its name to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, architectural plans were unveiled for a new performing arts center.

Charles E. Lawrence, of Caudill, Rowlett, Scott Architects (CRS), was chosen together with A. Harold Marshall, Dennis Paoletti, and Jerald R. Hyde to design the acoustics.  The  contractor,  C.L. Peck,  announced  that  he

would build the Center without taking a profit. The asymmetrical design of the building would have an advanced acoustical system and excellent sight-lines.

The multipurpose theater was constructed in concrete and clad in red granite. The stone selected was Napoleon Red Swedish granite, quarried from a single striation of stone in Malmo, Sweden. From the quarry, the blocks of stone were shipped to Italy, where they were cut, polished, and honed to reveal a subtle gray hue. Henry visited both Swedish and Italian locations to examine the stone and the process. Years later, on the 350th anniversary of the first Swedish colony in America, the King and Queen of Sweden, after visiting the historic colony in Maryland, accepted an invitation by Henry and Renée to visit Costa Mesa and Segerstrom Hall with its Swedish red granite cladding. Henry presented them with a small red granite replica of the grand portal of the hall.

One year before the performing arts center opened, Henry Segerstrom arranged for Len Bedsow to join the building project in order to supervise the acousticians, architects, and contractors as well as to help raise money for the new Center. Bedsow was known for his unwavering vision for the multipurpose theater, determined to prevent the facility from becoming an expensive community theater. For the management and artistic direction of the Center, Thomas Kendrick and Judith O’Dea Morr left their positions at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to lead the Orange County center into the future.

The vision of the Center’s founders became fully realized on September 29, 1986, when the Orange County Performing Arts Center opened. The internationally renowned soprano Leontyne Price inaugurated the Center, singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ along with Zubin Mehta conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Orange County Performing Arts Center is one of the nation’s most innovative and technically advanced structures for the performing arts. Its 3,000-seat multipurpose theater designed with a proscenium stage was named Segerstrom Hall the year it opened. It was only the second full-scale opera house in California. The first was the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center, built in 1964, was actually built for Broadway musicals. In fact, the gridirons of Segerstrom Hall are nineteen feet higher than those of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Founders’ Hall was designed as a versatile black box-style space suitable for many purposes and occasions, with a 65-foot-wide room. Multiple staging and seating configurations were possible for performance, rehearsals, cocktail gatherings, meetings, seminars, and special events.

The Performing Arts Center is Orange County’s largest nonprofit arts organization and was built entirely through private funding. The Center revised its bylaws in 1987 to merge its board of trustees with the board of directors, naming Henry T. Segerstrom as president and chief operating officer. He served for three years, guiding the Center’s achievements and consistent artistic successes, and establishing it as a valuable cultural resource for the entire community. Its international programming, that included performances of the Paris Opera Ballet, with Rudolf Nureyev in a minor role, the Grand Kabuki, and operas by Gilbert and Sullivan, has earned the Center a reputation as one of the leading presenters of dance and music, bringing award-winning musicals from Broadway and some of the world’s most important classical, jazz, and cabaret artists to Orange County. Beverly Sills even proclaimed that the Orange County Performing Arts Center was her home away from home.