Longtime concert promoter Gina Zamparelli, who is perhaps best known locally for her attempts to preserve Pasadena’s historic Raymond Theatre, died on May 21 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor on May 4, according to her sister, Marisa Zamparelli. Gina turned 59 on May 8.
Funeral services will be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at Holy Redeemer Church, 2411 Montrose Ave., Montrose.
Gina’s ordeal was described in a statement issued by her family as “a cancer that moved in quick, grew very fast, was brutally destructive and in a place where doctors could not surgically get to it.”
Daughter of the Sri Lankan-born model and Miss Universe runner-up Maureen Hingert and Mario Armond Zamparelli, a longtime Pasadena resident and the personal artist and chief designer for Howard Hughes’ myriad companies, Gina, Marisa said, was the first woman music promoter in the United States to produce concerts in major venues with nationally renowned artists.
She produced shows at Perkins Palace (opening in 1921 as Jensen’s Raymond Theatre and then for a brief time prior to its closure in late March 1991 becoming the Raymond Theatre), the Roxy Theatre, the Whisky a Go Go, the Hollywood Palladium, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and the Wadsworth Theatre, according to the Colorado Music Business Organization website.
In 2000, Zamparelli was named Citizen of the Year in the Pasadena Weekly’s annual Best of Pasadena readers’ poll for her work with the group Friends of the Raymond Theatre, which she formed in 1987.
In 2004, the California Preservation Foundation awarded Friends of the Raymond Theatre that year’s President’s Award, the highest honor in the state presented in the field of historic preservation. With thousands of members worldwide, Friends of the Raymond Theatre became one of largest preservation organizations working to preserve a single historic structure in California.
“When we set out to preserve the Raymond Theatre, we never imaged the impact this one theater in Pasadena would have upon so many. This project has come to represent what’s possible when people work together to protect the places of our past,” Zamparelli is quoted saying by the website celebrityaccess.com.
After its opening in 1921, Jensen’s Raymond Theatre hosted vaudeville acts and later screened films. It became the Crown Theatre in 1948, also showing movies and putting on stage shows. In 1978, it became Perkins Palace, named for owner Marc Perkins, and over the years featured some of the biggest names in entertainment.
It was in the early 1980s that acts at the theater increasingly featured punk music, which attracted rough and rowdy crowds that fell out of favor with city leaders who were hoping to redevelop Old Pasadena into a family-friendly dining and shopping destination.
In 1985, Perkins sold a share of the property to developers Gene and Marilyn Buchanan, who wanted to convert the structure into offices, and in 1987 he reopened the theater, but closed it again in 1988, according to “Remembering Pasadena’s Palace of Rock,” by Matt Hormann, appearing on the Hometown Pasadena website in 2010.
“The theatre was a MAJOR success as a concert venue. In fact, it won many Pollstar awards as the top grossing venue in Los Angeles. Some of the artists who played the Raymond Theatre during the Perkin’s Palace era include Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, Motley Crue, Willie Nelson, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Van Halen and more,” Zamparelli wrote in a post on the cinematreasures.com website in January 2005.
“Every major concert promoter in the business produced shows at the Raymond Theatre. Also many movies, television shows and videos were filmed at the Raymond Theatre during this era as well. It even had its own TV show called ‘Rock N’ Roll Tonight, Live from Perkins Palace,’” she wrote.
Hormann, an occasional contributor to the Pasadena Weekly, writes that Zamparelli contacted then-Councilman Rick Cole in 1988 to have the city do a feasibility study on the property to determine whether the theater could be saved. The study, performed for $29,800 by R. F. McCann and Co., found that a theater use could yield from $671,672 to $1.7 million annually after the bills were paid, according to the Los Angeles Times. That money could then be used by a new buyer to pay off the $2.8 million Perkins and Buchanan wanted for the building and the land.
In 1990, Gary Folgner, owner the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and the Ventura Theatre in Ventura, was one of three parties interested in refurbishing the building and operating it as an entertainment venue. He bought the structure from the Buchanans with the intention of maintaining it as a concert venue. After extensive and expensive renovation, Folgner opened as the Raymond Theater, but was shut down by the city for Fire Code violations after just one concert in November 1990 by the band Toto. The theater opened again in early 1991, but Folgner was unable to provide documentation showing the cushions used on the theater’s 1,900 seats had been treated with fire retardant. Overwhelmed by the extra expense and unable to make mortgage payments, Folgner closed on March 23 of that year, according to Hormann.
Folgner, who sued the Gardena-based company that provided the cushion and settled out of court in August 1992 for $192,000, according to the Times, returned the property to the Buchanans, Hormann writes. Thus began another years-long process, this one involving the conversion of the property into a mixed-use condominium complex.
Ultimately, after several public hearings in the 2000s, at which rock personalities showed up to testify before the Planning Commission and City Council in favor of keeping the building as a concert venue, conversion of the theater into condos, offices and retail businesses was approved, and the Raymond Renaissance opened in 2009.
“While the Buchanans made a point of leaving the original ‘Jensen’s Raymond Theatre’ façade and other minor features intact, the conversion was drastic enough that the building’s days as a concert venue were over forever,” Hormann writes.
During those years, local newspapers, including this one, were flooded with letters from preservationists, the vast majority demanding the theater be used as a concert or a performing arts venue.
In 1990, when it seemed like that would happen under Volgner’s brief ownership, Andrew Warren of Sierra Madre spoke for many in a letter to the Times, praising Zamparelli for her determination in attempts to save the Raymond as a theater.
“I know I speak for many people when I say, ‘Thank you, Gina Zamparelli.’ Thank you for having the courage and tenacity to battle so many obstacles so that we might once again be able to enjoy the benefits that such a beautiful theater and its events can bring to the city of Pasadena. After making this dream a reality we can only hope that you’ll be around for us when the next historical landmark is threatened by corporate development,” Warren wrote.
Donations can be made via GoFundMe at: gf.me/u/iyc9xv