California Scenario – Costa Mesa, California - Atlas Obscura
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Costa Mesa, California

California Scenario

A small sculpture garden that provides a microcosmic representation of California. 

Just off the 405, not far from John Wayne Airport, lies an easy-to-miss corporate plaza centered around a not-to-be-missed sculpture garden.

Known officially as “California Scenario” and colloquially as “Noguchi Garden,” this hidden-in-plain-sight public art work was designed by Isamu Noguchi, a notable American sculptor and landscape architect as well as a native Californian. The site was commissioned by Henry Segerstrom, a man who had parlayed his family’s lima bean fortune into a career as a prominent Orange County philanthropist and real estate developer.

Segerstrom’s most successful development was the South Coast Plaza mall, which he opened in 1967 on one of his family’s lima bean fields. It has been described — in one of the most Orange County phrases one could ever hope to read — as the “Mercedes-Benz of elite malls,” ranking to this day as both the largest mall on the West Coast and the mall with the highest annual sales figures in the entire United States.

In 1979, Segerstrom decided to turn another piece of the old family farm (right across the street from South Coast Plaza) into a small office park, and approached his close friend (and by then well-established artist) Noguchi to provide an artistic nucleus for the development. Segerstrom asked for a sculpture to grace a central garden; Noguchi instead offered to design the entire garden.

The resulting California Scenario is a beautiful and strikingly stylized piece of public art, comprising 1.6 acres in the midst of smoked-glass corporate high rises. Noguchi’s design subdivides the space into sections with names like “Desert Land,” “Forest Walk,” “Water Source,” and “Energy Fountain” that represent the geographic and climatic variety found within the state of California. The centerpiece of the park is a dramatic sculpture consisting of large granite rocks, cut roughly yet precisely to fit neatly together. This sculpture is called The Spirit of the Lima Bean, because Noguchi knew how this particular project’s bread was buttered (it was buttered with his friend’s fat lima bean stacks).

This being Southern California, visitors to this important work by one of America’s preeminent landscape architects are advised to park at the nearby TGI Friday’s.

It’s also rumored that the aerial view of the surrounding buildings forms a pentagram, and that Segerstrom was involved with the Church of Satan and Anton La Vey.