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Curtains for Pasadena Landmark? : Offices Proposed to Replace Theater

November 19, 1987|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — There may be no business like show business, but as far as the owners of the old Raymond Theater are concerned, show business is no business.

After 67 years of showcasing acts such as 1930s star Jan Rubini and His Orchestra, and more recently Oingo Boingo, the Plasmatics and the pornographic movie "Deep Throat," the theater's days of fame and infamy may soon come to an end.

The theater's owners, developers Gene Buchanan and Marc Perkins, plan to turn the Old Pasadena landmark at Raymond Avenue and Holly Street into a modern brick-and-glass office building.

The marquee would be removed and the theater's gold-and-crimson interior gutted to make way for four stories of offices. A second four-story office and retail building would be built on the parking lot next door.

'Doesn't Pencil Out'

"We've been extremely patient and tried very, very hard to make it as a theater, but it's just not working anymore," Buchanan said. "I love the ballet and opera as much as anyone, but I've got a business deal here that just doesn't pencil out."

Perkins said of the theater building: "We're talking about a senior citizen. You can't ask an old lady to boogie."

The threatened loss of the Raymond has sparked a movement by local theater lovers and business people to save what they call one of the last and greatest of the area's ornate vaudeville theaters.

"It's absolutely gorgeous," said Tracy Wallace, the owner of L'Attitude, an Old Pasadena clothing store. "I've only been in it once, and I'm in love with it."

Russ Raftis , who owns Adventure Bound, a travel-accessory store on Colorado Boulevard, added: "It's a true jewel."

But some members of the fledgling Friends of the Raymond Theater concede that they are short of ideas on how to save it.

Zoned for Offices

In contrast with the controversial campaign to save the 80-year-old Huntington Sheraton Hotel, there are few means of mounting a legislative drive against the Raymond project.

In the Huntington campaign, preservationists unsuccessfully tried in a citywide referendum to overturn the zoning change that will allow the demolition of the hotel's main building. But the theater property is already zoned to allow an office building. As city Senior Planner William Cross said: "They could walk in and get demolition permits if they wanted."

However, Bruce Irwin, who heads Friends of the Raymond Theater, said his group believes that it can find the financial or political means to halt the project and turn the theater into a cultural showcase.

"We're going to put up a hell of a fight," he said. "We're not going to lose it to office space."

No one disputes that the Raymond Theater, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is a bona fide Pasadena landmark.

Built in 1921 at the height of the city's golden era, the Raymond began life as a theater for stage productions and was later converted for musicals, movies, and most recently, rock concerts.

The list of acts that have passed across its stage reads like a roll call of American pop culture.

In its first decade, the theater was packing them in with stage productions such as "Miracle Man" and "Peg o' My Heart." By the 1930s, groups such as Howell & Aretha's 25 Piece Accordion Band were delighting audiences.

From the mid-1930s through the 1970s, movies began stealing the spotlight. At one point, the theater became a local porno hot spot.

During the 1980s, the theater has presented a number of rock shows, from mainstream attractions such as the Pretenders and Phil Collins to more esoteric bands such as XTC and Black Flag.

The theater was designed by J. Cyril Bennett, who left his mark on the city as the architect of many of the store facades along Colorado Boulevard, the Civic Auditorium and an addition to the Pasadena Playhouse.

From the outside, the theater has a simple facade of brick and stone in the Beaux Arts classical style, marked by a plain marquee and three large brick archways.

Vintage Grandeur

But behind this exterior is an ornate 1,800-seat theater reflecting the grandeur of early moviedom. Spreading out from the stage are row after row of burgundy-red seats, under a ceiling covered with carved reliefs. A pair of wide spiral ramps lead to a 900-seat balcony. There is still an orchestra pit in front of the 100-foot-wide stage.

Buchanan and Perkins have just begun the city review process for their $3-million to $4-million project. They plan to replace the theater and parking lot with about 132,000 square feet of office and retail space. They would save the facade of the theater and design a similar facade for the new building next door.

Both have developed other properties in Old Pasadena, including well-regarded restoration work such as the Arroyo Seco Building on Colorado Boulevard and the Parkway Grill on Arroyo Parkway.

"I've lived here 15 years, and I'm sensitive to restoration," Perkins said. "We're going to do a hell of a nice job with this one."

Strictly Business

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