Opinion: Musings on the Coast

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The Origin of The Discovery Cube

In past columns, I discussed both The Democratic Foundation of Orange County (DFOC) and Art Spaces Irvine (ASI). This column is about the creation of The Discovery Cube in Santa Ana, which grew out of ASI’s idea that the County “wanted” an interactive science learning center aimed at children, and was helped along by my involvement with DFOC.

Every time you drive the I-5 Freeway next to Main Street in Santa Ana, you see a giant black cube jutting into your view—today’s Discovery Cube.

The Discovery Cube came to life during the 1990s when my brother, Walkie Ray, and his wife Janet, picked up the idea, and by sheer will and hard work created it.

Here is how they did it.

First, where would it be located? Thinking it should be near the County’s center, Walkie looked north and found an old furniture building for sale in Santa Ana. This was the “ah-ha” moment. The building fronted the I-5 next to the Main Street offramp—perfect. He tied up the building.

Next came the search for a lead sponsor and it was a tough sale—until the idea for a symbol, the Cube, was proffered, and a scale model built. With that visual, Taco Bell saw the potential and stepped up with a $1 million pledge (which is why the official name is The Taco Bell Discovery Cube).

Walkie got busy finding the right architect and courting other donors—and asked me to obtain a bank loan to make up for donor shortfalls. My friend Bernie Schneider, who was slated to be one of the DFOC Founders but instead joined a presidential campaign, called to state he represented the National Cooperative Bank which financed nonprofits and he asked me if I knew of any candidates. Boy, did I.

In the meantime, Janet Ray, with help from Anton Segerstrom, opened a “preview Cube” store in a new section of South Coast Plaza to gain public awareness and manned it herself and with friends.

About the same time, one of the DFOC’s younger members, Miguel Pulido, had become the Mayor of Santa Ana, and he pitched in with gusto. Santa Ana had little excess funds but could help with building variances, and most important, allow a big neon sign facing the Freeway.

Between contributions and financing, the project was still $2 million short. Republican Speaker of the Assembly, Curt Pringle of Anaheim, sponsored a bill providing the cash and Republican Gov. Pete Wilson supported it. However, the State Senate was controlled by Democrats and naturally opposed it. To reverse their position, Miguel and I visited Bill Lockyer, who as President Pro Tempore controlled the State Senate; we begged and he relented.

Next, a great contractor was hired but Walkie (being a contractor himself) and his best employee, Hoppy Cunningham, personally oversaw all of it and they forced, and I mean forced, the Cube to come within budget.

Flash forward to the opening ceremonies overseen by Governor Wilson, and cheers!

Since then, tens of millions of mostly school-aged children (from a 100-mile radius) have swarmed the place in pure glee. Go yourself and look. You will see the delight in children’s eyes as they scamper from one interactive science exhibit to the next—like Disneyland, but all the exhibits are interactive, and the kids love it.

I would like to emphasize that although I played a part, but it was only a bit part. Walkie and Janet who drove it all the way to completion, and one can state unequivocally that without them, today the Discovery Cube would not exist. Lucky us.

Michael is a Laguna Beach resident and principal officer emeritus of Laguna Forward PAC.

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