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Pasadena Tries to Save the Raymond as a Theater

May 13, 1990|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When developer Gene Buchanan looks at the Raymond Theater, he envisions a skylighted office building, matching the handsome structures he has renovated up and down Pasadena's Raymond Avenue.

When producers Gary Folgner or Eddie Haddad look at the theater, they see a premier concert palace, hosting acts like Robin Trower, Sam Kinison, Tom Jones or Dionne Warwick.

But for owner Marc Perkins, who brought in Buchanan as his partner five years ago in hopes of rescuing the building from decline, the 69-year-old theater is a hulking structure with a leaking roof, pigeons roosting in the stage rafters, bird droppings and feathers littering the stage and pitch blackness throughout following the theft in January of $150,000 worth of copper electrical wiring.

"Let's get out of here. It's depressing," Perkins said last week, grimacing as he led a reporter through the darkness.

Out on the sidewalk, he looked back at the building, closed for the past four years, its entrance littered by dust and yellowed newspapers blown against the glass doors.

"It's an old lady who maybe had a heyday," Perkins said. "But the bottom line is, it's really hard to do something with these kinds of buildings."

Nevertheless, city officials are trying. On Tuesday, the Board of Directors gave city staff members approval to work with Buchanan and Perkins to devise a renovation plan for the building that would preserve it as a theater and stop the owners' proposal to gut the interior and turn it into offices.

The approval means that competing ideas--including visions of the Raymond as a $10-million cultural center or as a music hall--must now be sorted out to find one that is economically feasible.

"I think that Tuesday was a huge triumph," said Gina Zamparelli, a concert producer who said she has gone door-to-door in Old Pasadena in the past three weeks, drumming up support for preserving the Raymond as a theater. "If all the pieces fall into place, I think we're going to save the theater."

But for Buchanan and Perkins, who have held their office plans in abeyance for more than two years, the city's action has only further tried their patience. The two initially agreed in 1988 to hold off on their plans in order to allow the city to prepare a $29,800 study to explore the economic feasibility of preserving it.

"It was (supposed to be) 60 to 90 days (for the study)," Buchanan said. "All of a sudden that 60 to 90 days turned into two years."

The study by R. F. McCann and Co., completed in January, showed that theater use at the Raymond could yield from $671,672 to $1.7 million annually after operating expenses. That money could be used by a new buyer toward paying off Buchanan and Perkins' purchase price.

The price has been a sticking point in preserving the Raymond as a theater, however. The owners are asking $2.8 million for the land and building, an amount some concert and theatrical producers say is too high.

The city is proposing to solve that dilemma by having Buchanan and Perkins agree to accept a lower price for the Raymond. In return, the two owners would receive development rights held by the city at the nearby First Interstate Bank parking lot.

Although the city does not own the land, it owns "air rights" above it, which means that Buchanan and Perkins could construct a new building on the site, provided they include bank parking spaces in the new structure.

But Buchanan said the deal could have drawbacks because it would cost $1 million alone to construct the new parking structure.

In addition, the city must sort among the competing ideas for a package that best suits the city and the owners. That procedure could take as long as six months, said city Development Operations Administrator Marsha Rood.

But Rood said the city could speed up the process if needed. "A whole lot of things need to be negotiated. Time is one of them."

Also subject to negotiation are the three competing proposals for the theater's future.

Producer Haddad, president of E. J. H. Inc., operates the Celebrity Theatres in Phoenix, Ariz., and Anaheim, as well as the Variety Theatre in Los Angeles. Haddad is proposing to use the Raymond as a venue for touring concert acts.

In a similar vein is the proposal by Gary Folgner, owner of the Ventura Theatre in Ventura and the Coach House in Orange County. Folgner would revamp the Raymond to provide restaurant seating for dinner shows.

Both Haddad and Folgner say they would upgrade the theater to open it as soon as possible and do other work as time permitted.

Producer Terry Gates would like to raise $10 million to rehabilitate the Raymond to historically mint condition, stripping away some of the 1940s and 1950s flourishes to recreate the Georgian, classical interior unveiled at its opening in 1921.

Gates' proposal would also include building an annex on the adjacent parking lot for offices and rehearsal space, and adding a restaurant inside the Raymond.

The main drawback to his proposal, however, is that he wants the city to temporarily purchase the building for $2.8 million while he finds funding among corporate donors to reimburse the city. Rood, City Manager Donald McIntyre and Mayor Jess Hughston said the city has no money for such a proposal.

In addition, the McCann study indicated that proposals such as Gates' would require ongoing public subsidies, something city officials want to avoid.

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