Topping out an expanded South Coast Plaza, and girding themselves for a virtual doubling in size and projected sales, civic leaders, construction workers and plaza principals gathered Friday in a parking lot opposite the Costa Mesa site to witness the hoisting into place of the last steel beam, painted white for the occasion and signed by many of those present.
Merchants wore business suits, of course. Construction workers, who joined the party once the deed was done then headed off for a party of their own, were more trendy and festive. But Sue Graham, general manager of Bullock's and president of the South Coast Plaza Merchants' Assn., probably best reflected the nature of the event: She wore a 14-karat-gold hard hat, a Christmas gift from Bullock's.
"They got it from Neiman-Marcus," Graham admitted.
A new Nordstrom, twice the size of the original store and on an adjacent site near Sunflower Avenue, will open in May. A Robinson's and Broadway will anchor the new structure, scheduled to open in August on the west side of Bear Street; 60 smaller stores are planned for the new wing. (A benefit for the Irvine Guilds of the Orange County Performing Arts Center will mark the opening of Robinson's.)
Bullock's will undergo major remodeling at its present location. "We're just becoming fatter," Graham noted, "by 90,000 square feet." She pointed out with some pride that the Broadway will comprise 200,000 square feet, Robinson's 215,000 and Bullock's 245,000. Graham, also the department store's fund-raising liaison, mentioned that the Sandpipers, an auxiliary of Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, will introduce Bullock's' projected third level in November.
Not unexpectedly, Atrium Court, the recently opened jewel of Fashion Island in nearby Newport Beach, was a focus for pre-ceremony chitchat.
"It's really made a statement," admitted Werner Escher, South Coast Plaza director of community relations, "taking the place of J. C. Penney's like that and . . . well, I'm impressed. (South Coast Plaza marketing director) Maura Eggan always said, 'I just can't see Pierre Deux over the pickles,' meaning all those fashion stores over a food store. But, obviously, they're making it work."
Feature an Atrium
According to K. N. Hayakawa, of Leach, Cleveland, Hayakawa, Barry & Associates, production architects for the South Coast Plaza expansion, the new wing will also feature an atrium. "Very similar," he said. "Notice the barrel skylights. . . ." The exterior of the mall will be granite, with the exception of Robinson's: Its shell will be entirely travertine marble.
Henry Segerstrom, managing partner of South Coast Plaza owners C. J. Segerstrom & Sons, spoke briefly, then introduced members of the Segerstrom family--his mother, Ruth, cousin Hal and son Toren. Also there were mall general manager Jim Henwood, community relations manager Carol DiStanislao, retail services director Leah Marshall, Costa Mesa Mayor Norma Hertzog and City Councilwoman Arlene Schafer.
According to Eggan, whose 'When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping at South Coast Plaza" is now immortalized in steel, landscaping for the new wing will feature a private collection of palm trees. Meanwhile, a decidedly humble pine, attached as it was to the steel beam, played its part in the ceremonies.
South Coast Village marketing director Linda Frost explained over orange juice and croissants.
Giving Back to Earth
"Originally, beams in buildings were made out of wood," Frost said. "In those days, they'd attach a live tree to the last beam--after the ceremony, it would be planted in the ground, the idea being that we're giving back to the earth what we've taken out. Obviously, these are steel beams," she continued, noting that this pine would most likely die. "It's more symbolic now. But it's a serious thing with the construction workers."
Meanwhile, the crew had a beam of its own, across which was scrawled "Harpo," among other names, lowered from the roof as the more official ceremonies began to break up.
"We usually do that," raising-gang foreman Bennie Ojeda said. "Even if the owners don't have anything planned, we write our names and have our own little topping-out party. We have a good time." At the conclusion of the plaza agenda, the workers indeed broke for their own whoop-de-do. "First we're going to drink all the stuff they've got"--Ojeda was referring to the orange juice--"then we're heading out to the Red Robin. Come on over!"
Dressed for that party, in a pink ruffled tuxedo shirt and Billabong kneebusters, was ironworker Ron Dunbar of Santa Ana.