40 and coasting

Daily Pilot looks back on South Coast Plaza's 40 years of influence on Costa Mesa's culture.

October 20, 2007|By Michael Miller

South Coast Plaza, which turned 40 years old this year, resides at the center of art and commerce for the city of Costa Mesa.

Four decades ago, it didn’t reside at the center of much of anything.

The shopping center, which opened March 15, 1967, is the largest mall in California and one of the most luxurious, with world-renowned architecture, a wide array of jewelers and several high-end boutiques.

Before it broke ground nearly half a century ago, though, there wasn’t much in the area around Bristol and Bear streets aside from a dirt field, lima bean patches and a few open roads.


The 405 Freeway, today a staple of life in Southern California, didn’t exist in finished form when South Coast Plaza opened its doors in 1967.

The Westin hotel across Bristol Street hadn’t broken ground yet. The Orange County Performing Arts Center and South Coast Repertory were decades away.

Like Fashion Island, a Newport-Mesa rival from the start, South Coast Plaza has helped to change the community around it.

But along the way, it’s reinvented itself as well, constantly bringing in new shops and improving its design.

“South Coast Plaza is not a static achievement,” said Henry Segerstrom, the co-founder of South Coast Plaza and one of its managing partners.

“It is a living, changing response to the demographic changes of our market area. We respond to the community, and we try to lead the community,” he said.

In honor of South Coast Plaza’s 40th anniversary, the Daily Pilot took a closer look at six of its main attractions.


The earliest aerial photos of South Coast Plaza make it look like a trading post on the frontier — a compact structure surrounded by cars, and then surrounded by unadorned fields. Nearly everything in the mall has changed since then, but one anchor store has stuck it out all 40 years: Sears, which dominated the original mall along with the now-defunct May Co.

Unlike most of South Coast Plaza, which specializes in luxury goods, Sears is blue-collar to its core, offering tools, appliances, auto parts and other home essentials.

Spokesman Chris Brathwaite said the store continued to thrive because, even while the rest of the mall grew more upscale, the expanding community in central Orange County made construction a priority.

“As more homes are being built, as more families are moving to the area, they need those products for their homes,” he said.


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