Beleaguered building

Church-owned Old Pas site vacant and in need of repairs

Pasadena Star-News/June 8, 2008

Pasadena - Exactly two years after the Church of Scientology bought the historic Braley Building in Old Pasadena - and went into high gear to get all 22 small-business tenants out - not a single plan for the promised fast-track conversion has been submitted to the city.

The deterioration in the historic 1906 building's appearance - and the inability of city staff to contact the owners about it - has been a source of "frustration," said Eric Duyshart, Pasadena's director of development.

"We've been very disappointed that the building has been a vacant eyesore in Old Pasadena," he said. "We have sent code-enforcement to evaluate violations there on the site ... over the past two or three months."

One reason for the development delay is that the church "wants to get it perfect," said Eden Stein, president of the Scientologists' Pasadena branch.

Progress also has been slow, she said, because the Scientologists have about 60 buildings, internationally, in the same early stage of development.

"Pasadena is one of them," she said, "and one of the reasons for the delay is we want to get all the buildings coordinated."

Stein said she wasn't sure why the city has had trouble reaching church representatives over the state of the building.

The building isn't a public danger, Duyshart said, but there are "aesthetic" issues involving tattered awnings and signage on the building at 35 S. Raymond Ave., in the heart of the city's prime shopping and dining district.

The imposing 50,800-square-foot structure, built as a bicycle store in 1906, was bought by contributions from "1,400 or 1,500" local Scientologists, who have now given title to the church, Stein said.

The "indicated price," according to the county Tax Assessor's Office, was $9.8 million.

The $6.5 million to $7 million needed for the interior conversion and exterior restoration also will be covered by member donations, Stein said.

The church has now hired architects M. Arthur Gensler Jr. and Associates and the firm of Staubach as managers for all 60 of its projects, she said.

Church officials hope to have plans to the city by fall and to complete the conversion in 2009. The conversion will be relevant to Pasadena, perhaps with an Arts and Crafts emphasis, she said.

"One of the exciting things is, we will have a church bookstore and a cafe, open to the public, with indoor and outdoor seating, opening into the (adjoining) alley," Stein said.

The main floor will also have an information center, which will include displays on Scientology's religion and social programs, plus film and conference rooms, seminar spaces and a chapel/auditorium available to the community.

There will also be a "purification center, sauna and gym," Stein said. The upper floors will be course and counseling rooms and offices.

When the church bought it, the Braley Building was home to a variety of restaurants, an antiques mall and other small businesses.

Steve Mulheim, president of the Old Pasadena Management District, said having it as a "big empty hole" on the block for two years has been bad for nearby businesses.

"It's not the only reason, but it does contribute" in an area where businesses depend on each other to attract pedestrian traffic, Mulheim said. "(The building) seems to be falling into disrepair and not being kept up in the way everyone thought it would be."

Mayor Bill Bogaard said it's rare that any large property in Old Pasadena sits empty for so long.

"The question raised when the church acquired the building was whether their activities would contribute to the vitality and pedestrian activity the city treasures in Old Pasadena," Bogaard said. "I think lots of people will be interested to see the program the church pursues for using it, and how it will participate in day-to-day life in that great retail and restaurant area."

Pasadena Heritage - which has an easement on the building's exterior and must approve any changes - would just like to see it looking cared-for, Executive Director Sue Mossman said.

"They seemed, when they purchased it, to be so wildly enthusiastic, so it has been somewhat troubling that they've taken no steps to repair it," she said.

"The things that would be most likely do not strike me as major undertakings," she said, listing the awnings, signage and other repairs. "It would be nice if that could get started. Once buildings are in need of maintenance, they can only go downhill more quickly if their needs aren't met."

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