Lima Beans to Luxury: South Coast Plaza’s 50th Anniversary

Photo by Nicholas Gingold/Capture Imaging

On the evening of June 13, 2017, the exhibition, The Segerstroms, Pioneering Spirit: An American Dream, opened in Jewel Court at South Coast Plaza, offering surprises for everyone. The display was organized to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of South Coast Plaza in conjunction with presenting the legacy of the entire Segerstrom family who built the center in 1966. Displaying photographs throughout the decades, in addition to videos as well as a farming tractor, the entire exhibition is installed within a circular labyrinthine structure in the grand atrium of Jewel Court. While the Segerstrom family members and invited guests were enjoying the opening evening, the renowned restaurant, VACA, located across Bristol Street on Town Center Drive, catered to everyone with samples of bite size legs of lamb and other Spanish tapas.  And, in the spirit of the Segerstrom’s Swedish heritage, a lovely pink cocktail made with lingonberries was offered up as well as champagne.

Photo by Nicholas Gingold/Capture Imaging

This exhibition is part of a yearlong celebration of the 50th Anniversary of South Coast Plaza. It presents the history of the Segerstrom family’s odyssey of hard work in America. It is a story of struggle, sacrifice, strong family bonds, and community enrichment, while eventually building one of the most successful shopping destinations in the world.  The photographs assembled are from the personal family archives of Ruth Ann Moriarty, the sister of Henry T. Segerstrom and the last surviving family member of the third generation of Segerstroms that made the pioneer journey from Sweden to America in 1882.

Arranged in chronological order, the photographs, with brief descriptions, take the viewer on a journey through the early days of C.J. and Bertha Segerstrom. First as tenant farmers in Jarnberget, Sweden, and then to America, where they lived in several cities in the United States before making their way to the promised land of California in 1898.  It is a story of working farmers, who became developers, and from developers became philanthropists. With great vision and perhaps a little luck, the Segerstrom family’s most dominant story may be their transformation of Orange County into what is has today become an international center for art, culture, commerce, and entertainment.

CJ Segerstrom & Sons, Co-Managing Partner -Elizabeth Segerstrom & Ruth Ann Moriarty

The opening video at the entrance to the exhibition features Mrs. Moriarty, welcoming visitors to an expedition through a maze of time. – Bonnie Rychlak

The aged archival black and white photographs from as early as the late 19th century are flush to the curving walls like two-dimensional wallpaper. Moving through this structure, which is a kind of circle within a circle, is somewhat disorienting. However, the story the images communicate is so engaging that one feels almost lost in time anyway. Any turn could bring the viewer to something unexpected around the corner, perhaps a large tractor or a bronze sculpture, or bags of lima beans. The experience is an adventure of sorts, as one walks through almost 160 years of a family’s narrative. It is an enthralling story, a true “rags to riches saga” that could be any emigrant’s chronicle.

Initially assembled for the museum section of the Santa Ana Courthouse last April, The Segerstrom’s Pioneering Spirit was a smaller exhibition. More modest in scale at the courthouse, with its somber, elegant 19th-century architecture, it bespoke a unique ambiance to the bygone days of the family’s legend.

Nevertheless, bringing the exhibition to South Coast Plaza enabled the organizers an opportunity to expand the number of photographs, to include antique farm equipment from the early days of lima bean cultivation, and install large sculptures from the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Illustrative videos have also been included in the SCP venue that offers more information to the already complex and fascinating Segerstrom history.

Not to be missed, the exhibition is open to the public
Monday through Friday  10 am – 9 pm
Saturday  10 am – 8 pm
Sunday  11 am – 630 pm

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Antonia Lee
Antonia Lee

Southern California-based travel, fashion, society, and lifestyle blogger.

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