The Joyce Garver Theater, located at 1500 NE Garfield St, in Camas, has been unoccupied since 2009 due to safety concerns and violations. Originally built in 1936, the theater was once a staple of the community, but for the past decade it has sat dark and empty. It was once a lively place that hosted musicals, concerts, and other events. The mysterious abandonment left community members with many questions.
Almost a decade has passed, and many residents have had no idea that it exists.
Gina Mariotti, a French and art teacher at Camas High School and Joyce’s former student said, “I think if I had been in classes at the theater, I’d probably have a different feeling for it. But it is a mystery.”
The current theater and choir teacher at Liberty Middle School, Erik Edmundson, said that the theater had a scary element to it in the dark. Throughout high school he remembers playing games in the dark theater with friends.
The theater was originally named the Garfield Auditorium, but was changed in the mid 2000s to the Joyce Garver Theater. Garver taught art, music, and drama in the Camas School District for nearly 50 years. Garver passed away in 2003, but her impact on students still lives on today. She was loved by many and left a lasting impact on her students and the Camas community.
Garver’s daughter, Julie, said, “She was very creative and really encouraged students to spread their wings, try different things, and push their boundaries.”
Mariotti said, “She’s the reason why I became an art teacher. We had a really good connection.¨
The Joyce Garver Theater is the only remaining part of the original Camas High School. The high school and the community were proud of their theater and utilized it in many different ways.
Julie Garver said, “It has awesome acoustics, some of the best in Clark County. Often for musicals, nobody would use a microphone.”
Joyce Garver loved to include as many students as she could in theater production.
“There were a lot of opportunities because it was a big theater and production. A lot of kids got to participate,” said Julie.
The most recent renovations occurred in 1985, when the school spent three million dollars to improve and bring it up to code. As of 2009, the theater has been closed to the public because two interior staircases and sandstone detailing do not meet safety requirements.
The Capitals Programs Director for the Camas School District, Heidi Rosenberg, said, “We had a seismic report done for the theater and it showed that it had the potential to collapse in a major earthquake. We just didn’t want to take the chance for anyone to be crushed.”
At that time, the theater was being used for other things.
“We had Hayes Freedom kids and staff from the district office there. There were a lot of people who lived, worked and played in that facility. We made sure they all had other homes and decided that it was better to close it until we could seismically retrofit it,” said Rosenberg.
Since the closure, a group of people put together a bond to renovate the theater and received numerous project requests from community members.
Roseberg said, “I think the people were missing the Garver theater. It was a mainstay in the city of Camas for a long time.”
The bond was passed in February 2016, which approved the theater renovation as well as other projects around the district.
“It’s the same bond that has funded the new Discovery High School and Lacamas Lake Elementary School. It’s all in that same package of money,” said Rosenberg.
As of right now, the other features included in the bond have all been completed, except for the theater. The project hit a roadblock in 2017 when the passage of a capital budget was tied up, affecting over a dozen school districts in the state. The situation has been resolved and the school district is ready to begin construction soon. The district is working with a budget of $12,500,000 to complete the whole project.
Rosenberg said, “Our goal is to put it out to bid this February in 2020. And then depending on the contractor we will start in early spring.”
Throughout the whole renovation process, the school district has encouraged community members to participate and voice their ideas. The focus of the project is to seismically upgrade the building and make it stronger.
“The walls and the roof have to be redone. It’ll have a whole new water and sewage system. The main goals consist of reviving the existing building south face, upgrade theater essentials, structural reinforcement, access improvements, and service life extension,” Rosenburg said.
By renovating the theater, the school district hopes to provide more opportunities for the community and restore the pride that citizens once felt
“My biggest hope is for the students to really embrace all the opportunities that can happen there. The community needs to make the most of an asset that is pretty outstanding,” Julie Garver said.
Rosenberg said, “We have a number of folks in the school community that are really excited about being able to use this facility for events.”
The theater has been around for a long time, and Camas citizens feel the need to keep its legacy alive.
“I’ll never forget how it felt standing on that stage, looking out at all the folks in the audience. It was a powerful space to be in and I’m really excited for the students are going to get that chance again,” said Julie Garver.