In 1987, Perkins concluded that the venue did not make economic sense as a theater and submitted plans to gut its innards and convert it to office use. Preservationists, alarmed that the landmark building would be robbed of its architectural grace, persuaded city officials to delay the plan. Folgner and Edward Haddad, owner of the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, emerged as prospective, competing buyers interested in continuing to run the Raymond as a concert theater.
Folgner closed the deal in September. Pasadena's vice mayor, Rick Cole, who had supported the grass-roots push for the theater's preservation, was among those who thought that the Raymond's prospects had been renewed.
Folgner "seems to be genuinely excited about restoring that building to its splendor from days gone by," said Cole, who thinks that the newcomer's lack of show-biz affectation will grow nicely on low-key Pasadenans.
"He's incredibly laid back," Cole said, "to the point of virtual inertness, which is one of the endearing things about Gary. Pasadena is not a place where you blow into town and make a big splash and people love you."
Somehow, though, Folgner has to find a way to make a splash at the box office.
One problem he will face, according to observers in the concert industry, is that the splashiest acts capable of filling a 1,900-seat venue all want to play in Los Angeles proper for the extra glitter value.
"It's all perception. (Los Angeles) is where the record labels want them," said Paul Goldman, a partner in Monterey Peninsula Artists, a major pop booking agency. "The Wiltern has its own sort of cachet. The Raymond Theatre at this moment probably doesn't have cachet."
But Goldman still sees a promising role for the Raymond. "It may very well be that being in Pasadena will never be the equal of being in L.A.," he said. "But so what? You can be a competitor without being a victor. And you can be very successful without having to be on top. There may be a very nice place for that theater to back up the Wiltern, as it were."
Making the Raymond Theatre profitable will not be easy, Folgner acknowledged. For his plan to work, he said, he will have to develop a successful office and restaurant complex on the adjoining property within the next two years, the idea being to implement the dinner-and-show format that has worked at the Coach House.
Meanwhile, he said, the Raymond needs to book eight or 10 successful shows a month. Folgner will try to attract the same wide range of acts that play the Coach House and the Ventura Theatre.
Country music could find a prominent spot, he said, since Los Angeles lacks a theater-level country venue smaller than the 6,200-seat Greek Theatre and Universal Amphitheatre.
The Raymond will also try to carve out a slot as a stage for acts that have outgrown smaller clubs but have not established their status as theater headliners. The theater will feature a regular diet of shows geared to draw about 1,000 people, rather than a full house. At that level, Folgner said, the Raymond can still make profits.
After the Toto show, which promoters say has enjoyed brisk advance sales, the Raymond's lineup includes Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir with Rob Wasserman, Nov. 30; country shows by Vince Gill on Dec. 1 and Highway 101, Dec. 7; heavy-metal guitar hero Yngwie Malmsteen, Dec. 9; jazz-funk bandleader Joe Sample, Dec. 14, and comedian George Carlin, Jan. 12.
The Raymond's prospects will depend heavily on the highly regarded ability of Phebus to book winners. A longhaired, full-bearded, deep-voiced man, Phebus has a gift of gab and a ready way with a quip that might have made him Merry Prankster material had he been on the San Francisco scene at the dawning of psychedelia.
But this key operative has had his concerns about the new venture, Folgner said: "Ken is a little more pessimistic about being in the L.A. market and getting into competition with the Wilterns, the Greeks and the (Universal) Amphitheatre. Maybe Ken's a little bit more of a realist, but I don't feel it's a major problem. I think there's a lot of room here.
"I may do the first concert and find out I'm not right at all. But you've got a strong local base to work from. I think it's going to be a very attractive market. With the look of the theater, and the revitalization of (downtown) Pasadena, it's going to be a place people want to go."
If the Pasadena venture collapses, Folgner said, it will not drive him to the poorhouse or jeopardize his two established clubs. He said his "security blanket," if all else fails, is a stake in the property his father bought 34 years ago in Dana Point, the parcel on Coast Highway at Del Obispo Street that houses the motel and restaurant.
"There's quite a large financial (return), a lot of money to be made" from the family's plans to tear down the existing buildings and redevelop the property, Folgner said.