A Stroll Through Isamu Noguchi’s California Scenario

In my years as a gainfully employed adult I’ve held many a clerical position which means I’m no stranger to an office park. I’ve worked in both high rises and corporate offices and know how architecturally boring they can be. Especially outside. I’ve spent my fair share of lunch hours sitting on a concrete bench. eating my sandwich and staring at a parking lot. But those who work in the Pacific Arts Plaza in Costa Mesa are a little luckier than the rest of us because behind their building is a hidden gem – California Scenario, an Isamu Noguchi sculpture garden.

Isamu Noguchi was a Los Angeles born artist and landscape designer who was active throughout much of the 20th century. He created iconic furniture pieces through a collaboration with Herman Miller, impressive public sculptures found around the world and notable gardens including the Japanese Garden at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Today, there’s an entire museum dedicated to him in New York and he remains a notable figure in the art world.

Commissioned by the Segerstrom family, California Scenario was completed in 1982. As the name suggests it’s an ode to the Golden State and contains design features representing various California landscapes.

I’d long known about the garden but it was one of the those places that I never got around to visiting. This year I put it on my “must visit” list and on a recent, rainy weekday I decided to finally check it out.

california scenario

Let me tell you, it’s not easy to find. I knew it was near the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and I had the address (611 Anton Blvd.) but I drove up and down the street for about 10 minutes before I figured out how to get to it. It’s not visible from the street and there are no signs offering direction. I eventually located the Pacific Arts Plaza parking structure off of Avenue of the Arts and luckily it had visitor spaces (though I did have to pay a fee). I crossed my fingers I was in the right spot, exited the structure and ran right into it.

Although it was an overcast day the garden still was impressive to see. I appreciated very much what I was looking at even though I didn’t quite know exactly what I was looking at. Luckily, there’s a handy guide nearby to offer some insight.

There are 7 major elements of the garden from the Forest Walk to the Desert Land to Energy Fountain – each symbolizing various aspects of our state.

It truly is a monumental work that’s tucked away in a hidden corner of Orange County. Perhaps that’s a good thing. If it were in a more prominent location it could have fallen into disrepair or even been bulldozed to accommodate changing societal taste. Instead, it’s in beautiful condition and remains a lasting homage to both California and the artist himself.


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