C.J. Segerstrom & Sons

A family business

C.J. Segerstrom & Sons is a real estate partnership that traces its roots back to Charles John Segerstrom, a native of Jarnberget, Sweden.

The Certificate of Partnership for C.J. Segerstrom & Sons was formally executed on the 15th of November 1937, in Santa Ana, California.  The partnership included William O. Segerstrom, Fred A. Segerstrom, B.C. Segerstrom, Harold T. Segerstrom, Veronica P. Segerstrom, Anton H. Segerstrom, and Nellie Ruth Segerstrom. 

There was a short time when the business was referred to as Segerstrom Brothers but returned to C.J. Segerstrom & Sons when Henry T. Segerstrom joined the family business in 1948.  Ownership of the business was held in undivided interests until the mid-1950s, when two of Henry T. Segerstrom’s uncles pass away. Both men were bachelors with no community property protection. Outlined in William and Fred’s will, Anton and Harold Sr. would inherit, as individuals, the total interests of their two deceased brothers’ shares in the family business. To settle their estates, the firm would need to sell nearly 700 acres of farmland in order to raise the funds to pay the inheritance taxes. The tax laws however, allowed an inheritor to sell inherited property at the estate’s appraised value with no capital gains tax. Henry T. Segerstrom suggested that he buy the personal interests the land his father inherited from William and Fred at the estate valuation.  Anton agreed and the purchase arrangement was successfully made. Harold Sr. made the same arrangement with his son, Hal.

As legal advice on vested properties periodically changed over the years, the family formed partnerships to hold titles and each had individual interests in a partnership. This was considered a more flexible form of ownership. Additionally all the offspring from the four Segerstrom brothers had some ownership interests in the business.

1882 – 1920

The family firm traces its history back to Henry Segerstrom’s grandfather. Charles John Segerstrom, a native of Jarnberget, Sweden.  C.J. brought his family of ten to the United States in 1882, living first in Chicago, then Prentice, Wisconsin, St Paul, Minnesota, Los Angeles, and finally to Orange County in 1899.

The 1890s saw two severe recessions and the worst unemployment ever seen in the United States up to that time. Charles and his wife, Bertha, looking to return to the occupation of farming that they practiced in Sweden, began farming twenty acres of leased land on an apricot ranch in the town of Olive, a community in the northern part of the city of Orange, two miles west of Anaheim Hills.  Subsequently cultivating oranges on leased land in the community of Orange, C.J. bought a ten-acre parcel of orange groves.

In 1900, C.J. moved his family again, this time to the Newport coast area referred to as Greenville/Harper/Fairview, now named Costa Mesa.  There they leased land and eventually purchased forty acres and a home they called Willow Spring Farm where they raised alfalfa and developed a small dairy operation.    

Reflecting the evolution of the Segerstrom family, the growth of C.J.’s farming operations advanced when his sons were still teenagers. C.J. was principally responsible for the entire farming operation but along with his four sons, he slowly assembled the family business, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons. Keenly aware of modern systems of farming, C.J. initiated the first irrigation system and leveled the earth using tractors.  In 1915, C.J and his sons built the family home in Costa Mesa and by 1916 had constructed the Segerstrom Ranch.

1920 – 1940

The family farm, with C.J. and Bertha’s four sons, William, Fred, Anton and Harold, and four daughters–Christine, Ida, Ann, and Esther, prospered in the 1920s. By this time, C.J.’s vision for a profitable farming business was moving away from small crops of alfalfa to lima beans. Anton and Bill Segerstrom were the two bothers most involved with the early dairy business. With four to five hundred cows and twenty-five employees, the dairy operation on the farm called Heil Ranch, was highly successful.

However, when World War II began and milkers became draftees and the non-draftable milkers realized the premium of their scarceness, becoming more competitive and demanding. When they threatened to strike, Anton and his other brothers, many who did not believe in mechanical milking, decided not to fight the labor situation but to sell the cows.

Over the years land was acquired in the names of the four boys in equal undivided interests.  From 1898 to 1948, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons only purchased land– they never sold a single parcel during those years.  Moreover, the family never received any Spanish land grants and the largest acquisition of land they made was 600 acres in 1940. Between 1925 and 1926, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons purchased the Armstrong Ranch and during the 1940’s and 1950s, the Ranch became one of the largest producers of lima beans in the world. For many years, the label on the bean sacks, “Grown by Segerstrom” represented the hallmark of pride and quality.  During a fifty-year period, the Segerstrom holdings grew into over 2000 acres of prime farmland. C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, during the 1940s and 1950s, was the nation’s largest producer of lima beans. They were independent producers, not associated with any cooperative marketing association. Branding and marketing their own product, they sold lima beams in railroad car lots, in six hundred 100 lbs. bags.

In 1940, the family firm purchased the Adams Ranch. This property was located between Harbor Boulevard and the Santa Ana River. Part of this property included the Estancia (Diego Sepulveda Adobe), a historic adobe built by missionaries to serve as a halfway station, a stop in their travels from the mission at San Juan Capistrano to the mission in San Gabriel. The Segerstrom family eventually donated the Estancia and six surrounding acres to the City of Costa Mesa in 1963 as a memorial to the early settlers of California.

1940 – 1950

Diversification of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons began in 1943 when the federal government began construction of a preflight training school in Costa Mesa.  They acquired fourteen hundred acres of land for the base where forty-five thousand service personnel trained.  To support the base, known as the Santa Ana Army Air Base, the government ran a railroad spur line from the Greenville Bean Growers Association warehouse into the Army Air Base commissary and warehouse area located south of Baker Street and east of Harbor Boulevard.  To construct the rail line, the government condemned a narrow right -of-way frontage along Harbor Boulevard that belonged to the Segerstroms.

After the war, the government declared the air base, including the two and a half mile railroad spur, surplus property.  C.J. Segerstrom & Sons tried to reacquire their frontage property that had been condemned but the federal government would not segregate the land that they had purchased from them.  Rather they made it a part of a sale of 76 acres of land that included the 2.5-mile long railroad spur reaching from Greenville to Costa Mesa as well as 110,000 square feet of warehouses comprising eleven buildings. The Segerstroms purchased it all in 1948.

This acquisition of warehouses pushed the firm’s annual income to exceed $100,000, which was approximately the amount the Segerstroms paid for the 76 acres, the railroad spur line, and the 110,000 square feet of warehouses from the federal government.

In order to develop the new properties, the firm needed to garner leases for the warehouses. With no experience in commercial real estate, C.J. Segerstrom engaged E.S. Goodner, a broker in Santa Ana, who proved to be ineffectual with generating leases. The unseasoned Henry T. Segerstrom stepped forward to take charge and make his first major advancement for the family business: leasing the warehouses within a six-month period.

Each lease required a separate board of supervisors specific use variance permit.  Henry went to the board hearings for each individual lease for approval.  During this process, it became evident that land use zoning would drive the future value of their land.  With that in mind, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, with Henry at the helm, applied to the board of supervisors for the industrial zoning of their 800 acres.

The first two lessees were with Western Canners in Newport Beach and Anaheim Truck & Transfer Company.  The remaining lessees reflected the rapidly changing economy of the new post-war Costa Mesa. These businesses included Wilson Mill & Cabinet that made cabinets for new public schools and a lease for a cold storage and freezing warehouse for frozen orange juice that was pioneered in Fullerton, California.  Additionally, the family business grew further when they leased warehouses to the John J. Foster Company, a pioneer developer and manufacturer of stainless steel honeycomb core used for airplanes.

Two major companies would eventually build their regional headquarters in the Segerstrom Industrial District. Standard Pressed Steel manufactured high-end steel desks and office furniture. They would eventually build a large manufacturing and corporate office on Harbor Boulevard south of Warner Avenue.  The second major company was the Voit Rubber Company, relocating from Los Angeles to Harbor Boulevard near Sunflower Avenue. 

1950 -1960

ZONING, ANNEXATION, AND THE SAN DIEGO FREEWAY

C.J. Segerstrom & Sons’ first application for rezoning was made in 1950 to change their land use from agricultural use to industrial use. The city of Costa Mesa was still unincorporated so the zoning came under county jurisdiction.  By leasing the warehouse buildings and working with the board of supervisors to secure individual use permits for their lima beans, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons learned the importance and value of the proper zoning of land.  During this period, the board of supervisors adopted the county’s first zoning ordinances. The family firm capitalized on the fact that they had rail service to their property. The city of Santa Ana originally opposed the rezoning proposal, as did Councilman Ogden Markel who vehemently opposed it.  Eventually however, the city of Santa Ana changed its position and C.J. Segerstrom & Sons were given the industrial rezoning, naming it Segerstrom Industrial District for identification and marketing purposes. They were the first major industrial land area rezoned in the county. 

Annexation of the city of Costa Mesa into the city of Santa Ana had been an ongoing conflict for many years.   The first attempt to annex part of the city of Costa Mesa into Santa Ana occurred in 1928 but was defeated by a five to one vote.  Trying again in 1953, Santa Ana and Newport Beach launched another effort to annex Costa Mesa. C.J. Segerstrom & Sons became embroiled in this battle between the cities. The Segerstroms owned unimproved land located between these two cities that were quickly growing and needed to expand. Costa Mesa had already annexed land as far a Baker Street.

When the city manager of Santa Ana made a house visit to the Segerstroms announcing that Santa Ana planned to annex land as far as to Baker Street and crush the fledging city of Costa Mesa, the Segerstroms interpreted this announcement as a threat to their enterprises. Since a significant amount of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons’ property was already committed to the new city of Costa Mesa, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons feared their property would flounder under the incorporation of Santa Ana. The consequence of this threat resulted in the family firm annexing Costa Mesa from Sunflower Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard.

As part of the annexation negotiations, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons took the position with both cities of Santa Ana and Costa Mesa that this particular acreage of their land was zoned for farming and their property was undeveloped. Concurrently, the Mayor of Costa Mesa at the time, Alvin Pinkley, (who also served on the Costa Mesa Water District Board), was well aware of Costa Mesa’s need to gain access to a new independent water supply from the underground basin. Costa Mesa did not have any deep well production but Santa Ana had an abundant domestic water supply from deep wells. C.J. Segerstrom & Sons asserted they had no need for schools, a fire or police department, arguing that if their land was to be incorporated into either Costa Mesa or Santa Ana, they should not have to pay for municipal services until such time as their land would be developed.

After many negotiations, Mayor Pinkley formulated the idea that the city of Costa Mesa could lease water rights from land owned by C.J. Segerstrom & Sons and accordingly, could develop its own underground water resources, share in the use and redevelopment of some of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons deep wells, and create an independent water supply for the city of Costa Mesa.  Compensation for these water rights would be equivalent to all of the municipal taxes needed to cover the annexed acreage.  Judging this idea to be acceptable and fair, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons entered into an agreement of annexation.  The city of Costa Mesa leased the Segerstroms’ water rights and developed wells and in turn, the city reimbursed C.J. Segerstrom & Sons for property taxes for unused city services.

Investments opportunities were on the horizon as were the negotiations for the section of the San Diego Freeway that was to pass through Costa Mesa.  The family business remained acutely aware of these developments. The opening of Disneyland in 1955 was also consequential to C.J. Segerstrom & Sons as the family studied the impact it would have on the price of orange groves in the area.  The family firm considered buying orange grove acreage in Anaheim near Disneyland but regrettably there was no consensus within the family to purchase any acreage.

Henry Segerstrom decided to attend some of the first public hearings on development of the San Diego Freeway in 1952. The State Division of Highways showed plans to route the freeway through the Talbert area south of Warner Street.  This was one of the first studies.  The state’s initial plan was to have the San Diego Freeway cross into this area at the point where Harbor Boulevard crosses over the Santa Ana River, significantly north of the final alignment.  C.J. Segerstrom & Sons did not have the staff to negotiate with the state on their own so hired a man named Harry Evans Terrell who was a professional land planner.  During the negotiating process, Terrell died but C.J. Segerstrom & Sons continued the contract with Terrell’s widow.  After a few years, Henry and his brother-0in-law, Gene Moriarty, decided to take a continuing education class in urban redevelopment with professor Ted Adsit.  The class never materialized but Henry decided to hire Ted Adsit to work for them as a land-planning consultant. Having a professional background as city manager of Riverside and as city manager of Salinas, he was adept in government affairs.  He represented Segerstrom interest in the realignment of the freeway.

Until his passing in 2014, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons was managed by Henry T. Segerstrom (grandson of Charles John Segerstrom); Henry formally joined the family firm in 1949. He shared the management with his cousin, Harold T. “Hal” Segerstrom Jr. who joined C.J. Segerstrom & Sons in 1949. Harold died in 1994. Eugene Hayworth Moriarty, Henry’s brother-in-law, was General Manager of MV Partners, which operated Mesa Verde Center and was an executive of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons from 1963 until his death in 2011.

Since Henry T. Segerstrom’s death, other family members continue to hold key positions: Anton Segerstrom (Henry’s son) is General Manager of South Coast Plaza (Bear Street) and David Grant (Henry’s son-in-law) is General Manager of South Coast Plaza, Sandy Segerstrom Daniels (Harold’s daughter) is Office Manager for the C.J. Segerstrom Ranch offices and Property manager for Sunflower Center and Woodlake Condominiums.  


Segerstrom Family History (short film)