After 13 years of dreams and hard work and two theaters, the South Coast Repertory broke ground at the site of the 2.5 million facility on the 1.65 acres site donated by Orange County’s prominent Segerstrom family. The architectural firm of Ladd, Kelsey, Woodard of Newport Beach designed one of the first of the several performing arts facilities, the theatre. A four-level structure with 28,000 square feet of working space, the main theater had 506 seats and a large rehearsal hall that would eventually be converted into a smaller, 10-seat experimental theater.
In 1972, Thomas Peckenpaug and Herbert Kendall, who represented the board of the South Coast Repertory Theatre Company, visited Henry Segerstrom to discuss their needs for expanding their theater facility. The representatives of the South Coast Repertory Theatre Company asked Henry if he would consider donating land in South Coast Plaza Town Center, an area across Bristol Street from the retail center, that would provide a location for their dream of a modern facility for the renowned repertory company. With the development of the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel, and the creation of a park in front of the hotel, a one-acre site had previously been formed. Henry discussed the proposal with his mother and his uncle Harold and they all agreed to donate the one-acre of land adjacent to the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel. The South Coast Repertory Theatre opened in 1978, and as Henry Segerstrom described the company, ‘They just took off like a rocket.’ Ten years later, the South Coast Repertory Theatre was named the outstanding repertory theater in America and received a Tony Award in 1988.
The plan for the expansion of the South Coast Repertory Theatre was also advanced. In 2002, the Theatre opened in a newly expanded facility in the area to be called the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, with the Folino Theater Center, encompassing the 507-seat Segerstrom Stage, the 336-seat Julianne Argyros Stage, and the Nicholas Studio. From the first study made in 1988 until the mid-1990s, César Pelli was the architect engaged with the master plan for the development of Segerstrom Center for the Arts. As various studies ensued during these years, the South Coast Repertory Theatre expansion and the art museum locations were being considered. The creative team of architect César Pelli, acousticians Russell Johnson and Damian Doria of Artec Consultants, Inc., and landscape architect Peter Walker were engaged to design the new performing arts projects and the expansions.
During Henry Segerstrom’s term as chairman of the board of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in the late 1980s, ideas for building a smaller theater of 800 to 1,200 seats were considered so that the South Coast Repertory Theatre could use this smaller auditorium for extended runs of its most popular plays. A feasibility study was commissioned to determine community interest. Beyond expectations, the results of the study showed that the performing arts had become a vital and essential activity for Orange County and an even larger facility was actually desired. Several years later, the Segerstrom family would pledge $200,000 for THIS expansion of the theater. This later pledge would prove to be the catalyst for a successful $3.5 million fund-raising effort.