Judge Rejects Challenge to Theater Renovation

Times Staff Writer

A long-delayed plan to develop Pasadena's historic Raymond Theatre could soon begin construction, now that a judge has rejected challenges by arts supporters and preservationists.

Two lawsuits, filed last year by the Foundation for the Realization of Contemporary Arts, Sciences and Technologies and the Spirit of the Sage Council, asked a judge to overturn the Pasadena City Council's approval of the owners' plan to convert the 82-year-old landmark theater to shops, offices and apartments.

The suits against the city had claimed that Pasadena had ignored state and federal regulations and had granted the developers, Gene and Marilyn Buchanan, special privileges by approving zoning variances for development of the 1,800-seat venue.

But Judge Dzintra Janavs rejected the plaintiffs' requests Friday, saying that although they had presented "interesting arguments," the city's actions were appropriate and legal.

"The city did everything it was supposed to do," said Pasadena City Atty. Michele Beal Bagneris. "The judge was real thorough; she read everything.... I think the decision was well-substantiated based on the record."

The Raymond Theatre, which showcased vaudeville, pornographic movies and rock 'n' roll before sitting empty for most of the last decade, has been the subject of public debate for more than 15 years.

One Pasadena councilman compared the landmark to a family pet that has suffered the ravages of age but that no one is willing to put out of its misery.

The Buchanans' plan -- to restore the theater's 1921, Beaux-Arts facade while putting the rest of the building to what they call adaptive reuse, creating offices in the balcony area and placing retail stores in the main space -- initially drew criticism from conservationists who had hoped to preserve it as a performing arts center.

But the plan, which still must clear Pasadena's planning division, was approved by the City Council in January 2002.

Marilyn Buchanan said she and her husband were thrilled with the judge's decision. "This gives us the opportunity to go ahead and get the building put back the way it should be.... It's time."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs were not available for comment.

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