Many Camas residents fondly remember the historic Joyce Garver Theater – or the Garfield Auditorium, as it was originally called – at 1500 NE Garfield Street. They may have participated in musicals or concerts there when they were kids, or watched their own children perform there.
The Camas School District shuttered the historic theater back in 2009 due to safety concerns. But after passage of a facilities improvement bond in 2016 to cover improvements, and a complicated renovation process, the theater is open once again. It’s more beautiful – and safe—than ever, and ready to host community performances for decades to come.
The Joyce Garver Theater’s Namesake Was a Beloved Camas High School Teacher
Joyce Garver was a music, art, and drama teacher at Camas High School from 1958 to 1993, known for orchestrating large and lively musical productions such as “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Camelot,” “Pirates of Penzance,” “My Fair Lady,” and “HMS Pinafore.”
“She loved putting on big productions and watching her students gain confidence through music, drama, and art,” says Julie Garver, Joyce’s daughter. “Her art students even painted backdrops for the performances. She inspired students to spread their wings, try different things and push their boundaries.” After Garver died in 2003, the theater was renamed in her honor.
Renovation of Joyce Garver Theater Expanded and Enhanced Amenities
As anyone who ever performed at the Joyce Garver Theater or attended performances there can tell you, the acoustics in the theater have always been top notch, and they needed no improvements. “The theater has some of the best acoustics in the Northwest, and performers often don’t even need microphones,” says Julie Garver.
Instead, the renovation focused on creating a beautiful two-story lobby with hardwood maple floors, wood slat ceilings, and large windows overlooking Camas and the Columbia River. The building now includes a kitchenette for preparing refreshments, a classroom that doubles as a green room where performers can relax, and gender-inclusive restrooms. There’s also an updated control room that’s ready to accommodate modern sound and lighting systems, and new rigging on the stage that’s safer and more efficient.
Seismic and Accessibility Issues Were Biggest Challenges of the Renovation
“The theater was built in 1935, when it was understood that buildings needed to resist gravity, but not yet understood that we’re in a major seismic zone where buildings also need to resist the side-to-side motion of an earthquake,” says Abby Curtin Dacey, AIA, principal-in-charge of the project for Mahlum Architects.
To create the support needed to meet current seismic requirements, without demolishing the building, six shear walls of reinforced concrete were inserted into the existing structure. “An immense amount of steel and concrete was installed behind the walls, below the floors, and on the roof to support the building, while working within extremely tight quarters,” says Dacey.
Making the building easily accessible was another focal point of the renovation, she says. “The original building had a narrow entry hallway, which also served as the lobby. The new entry is highly accessible, and we also added an elevator to the building.”
Camas School Board member Doug Quinn extends a big thank you to the Camas community for voting to fund the renovation of the historic facility. “Big kudos are also due to the school district’s construction staff, especially Heidi Rosenberg, for completing the beautiful renovation within budget, despite numerous surprises hidden in the old walls that required unexpected modifications.”
‘Graffiti’ Wall Lives On, Ready For More Performers to Leave Their Marks
One especially treasured part of the original theater was a back-of-the-house “graffiti” wall where students have recorded the productions they’ve been in, the years, and their names for many decades.
“The design team and the school district agreed that the wall should be preserved, so we had to be careful not to insert another concrete wall in front of it during the renovation process,” says Dacey. “I attended the first performance in the renovated theater in spring 2022, and one of my favorite moments was after the concert when parents took their kids back to the wall and showed them where they’d left their marks decades ago. The theater has truly come full circle.”
Dacey says that working with the Camas community was a high point of the Joyce Garver Theater renovation. “It was exciting to have the community so vested in the project, and to have such strong advocates for the building,” she says. “It’s always been a great theater – really big, with good acoustics, and full of community memories — and now that resource has been returned to the community.”
If you’re interested in booking an event at the theater, contact Rachel Best at Camas Community Education.