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Pasadena theater sparks dispute

Three groups are fighting a developer's plan to convert the Raymond to offices, shops and apartments.

June 06, 2003|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

Three nonprofit groups have filed two appeals with the California Court of Appeals in Los Angeles to block redevelopment of the Raymond Theatre, an 82-year-old venue in Pasadena that's hosted everything from vaudeville to porn films to Bruce Springsteen but has been empty and rarely used since 1991.

The Los Angeles Superior Court recently ruled that the city of Pasadena acted lawfully when it allowed the theater to be converted into apartments, shops and offices. Members of the three groups -- Friends of the Raymond Theatre, Spirit of the Sage Council and the FORECAST Foundation -- are calling for the landmark building to be restored as a live venue.

Spirit of the Sage Council, a local environmental and conservation group, is joining the appeal with the Friends of the Raymond Theatre. The FORECAST Foundation, a Pasadena arts group, is filing a separate appeal, arguing that Pasadena should not offer variances on its zoning code, as was done in this case.

"This is a fight about a developer who has the wealth and power to take down an important theater," says Gina Zamparelli, director of Friends of the Raymond Theatre. The group, she says, has 6,200 members worldwide, some of them preservationists who have been drawn to the case and others musicians who've played there or fans with fond memories of concerts.

Zamparelli calls the hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, important for both architectural and practical reasons. "In the San Gabriel Valley, we don't have a theater that's rentable and affordable," she says.

Craig Sherman, an attorney representing Friends of the Raymond Theatre, is seeking "an independent and fresh look" at the case. "We think the action was wrongly decided by the Superior Court," Sherman said.

Gene Buchanan, a developer who bought the 1,800-seat theater with his wife, Marilyn, in 1987, calls the appeal "the most ridiculous thing in the world."

"They filed a lawsuit on this and got beat soundly," he said. "And if they win, it won't give them back the Raymond Theatre."

The hall won't survive financially if turned back into a concert venue, Buchanan argues.

"For 25 years, we've been taking historical buildings, restoring them and putting a new and vibrant use on the inside," he says of his company, GG&M Construction, which has converted buildings into restaurants and office space in Old Pasadena. "And that's what we want to do with the Raymond Theatre."

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