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New neighbors to move in // Scientologists buy historic Raymond Avenue building

Title: New neighbors to move in // Scientologists buy historic Raymond Avenue building
Date: Friday, 8 December 2006
Publisher: Pasadena Star-News
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PASADENA — The last holdout tenant in the Braley Building has come to an agreement with the Church of Scientology, which is now geared up for a speedy takeover of the Old Pasadena landmark.

La Fornaretta restaurant owner Cesare DiLorenzo said he closed after coming to a "satisfactory agreement" with church officials negotiating to buy out his 19-year lease.

The financial details are "really personal," he said, declining to disclose the amount.

"We met halfway," said Di Lorenzo, whose restaurant operated in the 35 S. Raymond Ave. complex for about 10 years. "I am not happy, I would say I would like to stay there ... I'm kind of sad for my beautiful clientele."

Church posters already cover storefront windows on Raymond Avenue, and of 22 tenants - most of whom had month-to-month leases - only a dentist's office has still to move out.

The 50,800-square-foot Braley Building, opened in 1906 as a bicycle store, later added a produce market, then became a car showroom and repair shop. In 1980, it was the first building in Old Pasadena to be restored using the Rehabilitation Tax Credit, according to Pasadena Heritage. Since then it has been home to a variety of restaurants, an antiques mall and other small businesses.

Eden Stein, president of the Scientologists' Pasadena branch, said plans are to move "very fast" on the interior conversion, which will include a 250-seat chapel, classrooms, community room, offices and a bookstore.

"We are starting the design and planning stage of the renovation," Stein said. "We would like to do it very fast and move in very fast."

The building was bought by contributions from "1,400 or 1,500 church members," who then donated it, Stein said. Stein wouldn't say what they paid, but according to the county Tax Assessor's Office the "indicated price" for the June sale was $9.8 million.

Stein said people in the community are "curious about who we are and want to know what we're doing," but said the controversial religious group founded by the late L. Ron Hubbard - who lived in Pasadena for a time - would be a good neighbor.

The church plans to restore the historic building's exterior, on which Pasadena Heritage has an easement, and return it to "its original dignity and integrity," Stein said. "It will be very posh."

Pasadena Heritage will be involved in reviewing potential exterior changes to the building, including signage and awnings, Executive Director Sue Mossman said.

"Pasadena Heritage shares the concern of others that losing the retail presence on South Raymond is a loss for the district," Mossman said. "\ probably intend to have \ bookstore, but it's vital to have things that add to the streetscape and keep it lively and engaging."

City codes call for ground floor space in Old Pasadena to be "pedestrian-friendly," said Eric Duyshart, the city's director of development. That would include retail, restaurants or galleries, and exclude offices.

"As \ fill in they will have to comply," he said.

Steve Mulheim, president and CEO of the Old Pasadena Management District, said although the Church of Scientology is nonprofit, it will still be liable for the district tax assessment. The most recent assessment listed is $10,419.92.

Their plans for the building at street level are "still a bit of a mystery," Mulheim said.

"At the moment we're taking them at their word that they want to be good neighbors, and as good neighbors ourselves we welcome everyone to the district," he said.