VENTURA : Private Donors Help Refurbish Auditorium

Fifty-five years ago, the federal government paid workers to build the Ventura High School auditorium as part of the federal Works Project Administration that helped lift the country out of the Depression.

Late last week, a group of Ventura parents, students and community residents finished refurbishing the Art Deco-style auditorium.

This time, however, public funds were unavailable, so most of the money came from private donors.

The 1,500-seat auditorium, the largest in Ventura and one of the largest in the county, was built by the WPA in 1939 when the school was the site of both a junior college and a high school, Ventura High School parent Valerie Chrisman said. The campus was called Ventura Senior High.


In addition to the auditorium’s large size, which makes it a popular site for recitals and other local events, the building boasts amenities uncommon to high school assembly halls, Chrisman said.

The auditorium has an orchestra pit that sinks below the stage, a high-quality sound system and an ornate decor that includes an Art Deco statue and frieze in its airy, sunlit foyer.

“It’s a community asset,” Chrisman said. “It’s rented out all the time.”

Aware of the building’s value to the school and the community, Chrisman and other parents launched an effort three years ago to renovate the auditorium.


But in this era of state budget cuts, the Ventura Unified School District was unable to pay for most of the project.

The district paid to repair torn auditorium seats. And on Friday, the district paid workers to replace the roughly 50 auditorium windows that had been broken and cracked by vandals over the years.

But most of the labor and money came from the community.

Groups of students, including the band and girls volleyball team, have spent hours sanding layers of old paint off blond-wood benches in the auditorium foyer.


And Ventura High alumni, the nonprofit Ventura Unified School District Foundation, local businesses and service clubs helped raise $8,000 to buy new windows and update the school’s sound system.

Next spring, Chrisman said parents hope to have enough money to paint the outside of the building, restoring some of the original Art Deco detailing.

For now, she said she is excited for students to see the auditorium renovationcomplete when they return to school next week.

“They’ll see the little bits we’ve chipped away at every year have all come together,” she said.