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THE KEY PLAYERS : 'The Right Place at the Right Time' : Arts activist Elaine Redfield, former board president of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, tells how the dream to create a major performing arts facility in the county became a reality

September 21, 1986|ELAINE REDFIELD

I came to Los Angeles in 1941 from New York City, where I used to say that I'd arranged to be born three blocks from Carnegie Hall. Like many children growing up in the city, when the weather was bad we'd go to museums or to the theater. I do feel that had a big influence on me. I came to Orange County in 1950, when the office of my first husband, Edward Mittelman, was moved to Fullerton. At the time I really thought we were going down to the salt mines, but now I feel that it was a tremendous privilege to have come when I did and to have had the chance to grow with the county.

It all came together in Orange County with the combination of studio musicians eager to play and Frieda Belinfante--a splendid conductor--who had just come to Orange County. Of course, the world was not ready in the early 1950s to accept a female conductor , but she had started a group in Los Angeles called the Vine Street Musical Workshop, which mounted the first major concert at the Irvine Bowl on Aug. 22, 1954.

That led to the formation of the Orange County Philharmonic Society. My husband had been asked to serve as treasurer of the organization, so when I heard the Vine Street orchestra, I got really excited. We held the first steering committee meeting Sept. 8, 1954, at which we decided that we would try to present a series of concerts that winter. The orchestra was the Vine Street players, but by that time they were billing themselves as the Orange County Philharmonic Orchestra.

We became quite successful--so much so that the musicians' union started demanding rehearsal pay. And when that happened, it killed us, because there was no way we could afford it. We had always paid musicians for the concerts, but not for rehearsals. Frieda was struggling with it, but you can't maintain quality with only one or two rehearsals. So the audiences drifted away.

Then, about 1965, the L.A. Philharmonic in a sense took over our season and started coming out five or six times a year. It isn't often that you have delicious poetic justice, but there's a story about the last concert that Zubin Mehta conducted here. When the performance was finished, Mehta reputedly turned to the audience and said: "For God's sake, build yourselves a decent music center. I'm not coming back until you do." Something like that. So, I was delighted to hear that he is to have the honor of leading the first concert in the new center .

We in the society knew from the problems we had in setting up our performances that we needed to establish a regular location. We had been playing all around the county, doing concerts at the beach and using whatever high schools were available. For a long time we played in Crawford Hall at UC Irvine, until we settled on Santa Ana High School. And in 1965, from studies done for the remodeling of Plummer Auditorium (of Fullerton College), the county's need for a major auditorium became clear. There were about 37 different auditorium facilities in Orange County, but each had a deficiency. So here we were with almost 2 million people and not a single public facility in the county.

Then the Newport Harbor Foundation was established, and its people wanted to build a cultural center in Newport Beach. They went so far as to hire the Brakeley Co. to do feasibility studies on the whole project; the response Brakeley came back with was: "Ladies and gentlemen, no way. We simply cannot build a major facility of the nature you are contemplating with 180 degrees of your audience out in the ocean."

At about the same time, a couple of guys from the performing arts department of what was then Santa Ana College (now Rancho Santiago College), Stewart Case and Robert Blaustone, started agitating for better facilities for performances. They asked Catherine Quick, who had done a really good job as building committee chairman for the library in Santa Ana, to start a committee to try to push for developing what they called the Cultural Arts Center for the county. And that development work started probably in late 1972 or early 1973, and I was invited to serve on that board almost from the start.

We started out as the Orange County Cultural Center, and then a few of us on the board believed that (the name) sounded as if we were making too much of it, so we changed the name to the Orange County Music Center. But then the Los Angeles Music Center approached us and said they would rather not risk the possibility of any confusion. We felt they'd been so decent--L.A. has been supportive of this from the beginning--that the least we could do was be agreeable.

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