Anton Segerstrom wants everyone to know that despite the ugliness of the pandemic, something beautiful is rising at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa—the new, $75 million home of the Orange County Museum of Art.
“This will be the most significant piece of architecture in Orange County. You won’t see anything else quite like it,” Segerstrom, who serves on the executive committee for the museum, said while giving a tour of the under-construction site to the Business Journal. “It’s a gorgeous design.”
Like other art institutions, the museum has had its tribulations during the pandemic.
In July, Todd DeShields Smith left the chief executive position, departing for a similar position at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, N.C. While the board looks for a replacement, OCMA Deputy Director Sarah Jesse is serving as interim CEO.
It was able to reopen in September, attracting around 100 visitors daily to six new exhibits at its 32,000-square-foot temporary home, a few blocks away from the construction site. In recent weeks, it had to close that spot again as the county’s number of cases spiked.
The museum, which broke ground in September of 2019, will now open in the spring of 2022, a few months later than initially planned.
“We have not stopped construction,” Segerstrom said. “Everybody has assumed that the project stopped, that it was dead, that nothing was happening. In fact, we’ve been working all through the pandemic.”
The 1.6 acres of land for the project was donated by the Segerstrom family, whose various business interests built and own nearby South Coast Plaza, one of the world’s most prestigious shopping centers.
Anton Segerstrom, son of the legendary and late Henry Segerstrom, heads the museum’s fundraising committee.
The museum dates to 1962. Prior to Costa Mesa, it was based in Newport Center, on land donated by the Irvine Co.
Segerstrom said the new building will complete a trifecta of the arts in Costa Mesa: visual, repertory and performing.
“It was always the family’s vision to create a multi-disciplinary campus because that really doesn’t exist in the United States,” he said. “This is the last piece to fulfill that version.”
The building was designed by Thom Mayne, who won the Pritzker Prize in 2005 for his design of Diamond Ranch High School that is built on a hillside in Pomona, among other projects.
Last year, Architecture magazine gave his museum plan an award for projects yet to be built.
“This museum zooms in on the impact of art and architecture acting together,” wrote judge Claire Weisz in the magazine. “The design shows an evolution of the box, and it deflects to an important piece of artwork and to public space, rather than placing the art after the fact.”
The museum, which totals 53,000 square feet, will have about 25,000 square feet for exhibits, about the same size as New York’s old Whitney museum and double the size of the museum’s former Newport Beach home. It will also have 10,000 square feet for performance, education, and other uses.
It will have two full stories with a mezzanine, two large exhibition halls, a lobby, an education center, a café and a store. The top floor opens to an outdoor rooftop area where events with up to 1,000 people can take advantage of Southern California’s weather.
The grand public stairs will connect with the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza, which opened in 2017 and is the most recent addition to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
The general contractor is Clark Group, which ranked No. 2 on this year’s Business Journal list of construction firms when it reported $971.3 million in revenue from OC operations for the 12 months ended June 30.
The museum is working with Farmers & Merchants Bank to finance the project.
Segerstrom and Jesse gave the Business Journal a tour of the building under construction, along with Annette Wiley, who owns her own architecture firm in Newport Beach and is chair of the museum’s building committee, and Sue Totten, the museum’s development director.
Segerstrom displayed a keen knowledge of the details, describing the differing heights of the floors such as 19.6 feet in a main hall, the oak trees planted on the side of the rooftop’s open space and the glazed terracotta that will cover the building.
As he stood near the three-story glass entrance, Segerstrom said, “the front is very dramatic.”
He predicted the museum will become a big attraction in Southern California, which he called arguably the center of contemporary art with nearby museums like the Getty, the Broad and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Segerstrom, who has been working since 2006 to get the building built, has thus far raised about $53 million of the estimated needed $75 million. He and his family are among the largest donors.
“The project is coming together quickly,” Segerstrom said, noting that usual patrons in the Segerstrom Center who’ve been kept away during the pandemic are in for a shock when they return.
“This is one of the best kept secrets of Orange County right now. We’re not sure that’s a good thing.”