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Final act for vets' theater, golf course

WHITE CITY — One of the oldest structures remaining from the Camp White days has been deemed seismically unfit and will be shuttered Oct. 1.

The theater at the heart of the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics campus, dating to 1942, was already due for replacement. But after a late-summer inspection, the Veterans Administration elected to shutter the 19,800-square-foot multipurpose center, even though a replacement building isn't expected to open until 2020.

But it is scheduled to be replaced, which can't be said for the SORCC golf course, which provided inexpensive golf for veterans and their families and was also used for a turf management program that trained veterans for jobs in related industries.

Following a mandate from the Veterans Administration Central Office that VA facilities can no longer operate golf courses, the SORCC course will close Nov. 1. During October, veterans and their families can play golf for free.

Andy Briones, a project engineer for SORCC, said the theater building's closure was a safety issue. He said the building's walls and anchoring weren't up to minimal earthquake standards.

"The brick veneer over the clay tiles is unreinforced," Briones said.

In its infancy, the theater was used for movies and as a dance hall for thousands of soldiers who trained in the Rogue Valley during World War II.

Equipped with a wood floor, the building was used for half-court basketball, town hall meetings and musical events. The multi-level structure had permanent seating above the main floor and could hold up to 200 people, although capacity was recently capped at 120, Briones said. The theater's ceiling and lighting were upgraded during its most recent renovation earlier this decade.

The partially designed 13,480-square-foot replacement theater will be about two-thirds the size of the present structure. But seating capacity will be about 200, because the coffee shop and barbershop will be moved to a $7.2 million canteen due to begin construction this fall.

The price for the new theater has yet to be established, Briones said. It will be built closer to the entrance of the campus.

While the original theater had the feel of a USO center, the replacement will be more education-oriented, SORCC spokesperson Rhonda Haney said.

The new building will feature a half-court basketball floor, removable stage, computer labs, flexible meeting spaces, state-of-the-art audio and lighting systems and improved acoustics. It also will house the Camp White Military Museum and a chapel.

The theater, like much of the original campus, was designed by Myron Hunt, the same architect who designed the Hollywood Bowl, working from a standardized plan developed by the Quartermaster Corps.

"These sorts of specialized buildings — there were once hundreds — are slowly going extinct," said local historian George Kramer. "Those few that survived the end of the war to begin with don’t have much use in modern operations like SORCC. Given that it was considered semi-permanent construction nearly 80 years ago, it is sort of incredible it stood this long."

Briones said there is no demolition timetable for the old building.

During the interim, events will be held in the cafeteria, but it won't be available for outside community groups, Haney said.

SORCC and the Eagle Point National Cemetery are discussing possible use of the golf course property, with housing for homeless veterans also being considered there.

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Veterans Affairs Project Manager Andy Briones walks through the theater at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City Monday afternoon. The theater, which couldn't withstand an earthquake, will be replaced. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]
The theater building will be demolished, though a date has not yet been set. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]