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From farm to fine arts

Henry Segerstrom appears at launch of coffee-table book about his family's history and the growth of Southern California's cultural scene.

October 10, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Henry Segerstrom greets guests at a book launch party at Assouline Books in South Coast Plaza.
Henry Segerstrom greets guests at a book launch party… (Don Leach, Daily…)

Henry Segerstrom rarely makes public appearances. But he made an exception Thursday at South Coast Plaza, clad in a dapper blue pinstriped suit and a matching polka dot tie and seeming a tad bashful at all the attention.

The entrepreneur and philanthropist, who at 90 is also the managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, was the guest of honor at a book launch by luxury book publisher Assouline. He was joined at the 6 p.m. event by family, including his wife, Elizabeth, son Anton and daughter-in-law Jennifer, as well as well-wishers like Debra Gunn Downing, the plaza's executive director of marketing, members of the An family of AnQi by Crustacean, and others.

Segerstrom shook hands and laughed with close friends, while guitarist Roger Espinoza, tucked discreetly into a corner, strummed Cyndi Lauper's "Time after Time." They were surrounded by a swelling, multi-accented crowd comprising the who's who of Orange County, dressed in all their finery, who chatted, nibbled on hors d'oeuvres and sipped wine in a store outfitted with colorful walls, a carpet lined by numbers and alphabets, and books on Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel, bar mitzvahs, St. Barths and Venice, and even Coca Cola.

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Assouline, headquartered in New York City but with an outpost in Costa Mesa, recently released the 128-page "Henry T. Segerstrom: The Courage of Imagination and the Development of the Arts in Southern California" by Bonnie Rychlak.

Don't be fooled by the number of leafs, though — the coffee table book packs a punch, in content and literal weight, not to mention the weighty price: $150. It tells the tale of the Segerstrom family, originally from Sweden, and how they made the United States their home and built a dynasty.

The man who started out dairy and lima bean farming has donated land that now houses South Coast Plaza, South Coast Repertory, the Orange County Museum of Art and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. In doing so, he permanently altered luxury consumerism and the arts landscape of California's third largest county.

"I really believe in my own heart that in our lifetimes, we are put on this Earth to do more than just make ourselves happy," Segerstrom is quoted as saying. "We should do something to help others. Now is the time for us to pay ahead so someone else can enjoy it."

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