GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After a decade of being dormant, the Clay Theatre reopened in the heart of Green Cove Springs last week, completely revitalized as an event venue.
Up to its official opening, Venue Manager Andrea Vallencourt still was overseeing the theater’s last flourishes. She was waiting for furniture delivery, a photographer and hoping the marquee was lit for the first time. Up until the final days, the building and adjoining courtyard were bustling, and it seemed like every five feet is a contractor.
Andrea and Daniel Vallencourt acquired the property in 2017. They explored restoring the theater. The most feasible option was a space for weddings, gatherings and parties. The original theater opened in 1937 and went through multiple renovations. The Vallencourts had to extensively strip and renovate the original.
“Everything inside when we started tearing stuff down was in bad condition, so we completely gutted it,” Andrea Vallencourt said. “The movie equipment didn’t work, everything was really old. Really, the challenge was figuring out what we wanted to do with the buildings. This idea seemed like it made the most sense.”
The Clay Theatre is of Art Deco style, reminiscent of the “Roaring Twenties-era and The Great Gatsby.” Below the staggered white squares on the ceiling, the balcony remains, and the film room was refurbished as the bridal suite. The courtyard is bright and useable for outdoor weddings.
“We wanted to stick with a theme from when it was built. Nothing in here was original, it was renovated in the mid-2000s, after we took it over,” Andrea Vallencourt said. “We wanted it to be upscale.”
The first public event at the venue was Easter weekend ceremonies from the Nineteen Hundred Church. Pastor Joel Fletcher called it an honor.
“The Clay Theatre is in my opinion the greatest landmark we have in Clay County. It’s monumental and classic,” Fletcher said. “Generations have spent time in that theater or driving by it admiring the marquee.”
Some features of the venue weren’t in the original plans. Andrea Vallencourt said the lighting and sound equipment packages were upgraded when the venue received a large amount of bookings early on, more than 50 weddings so far, she said. People booked when it was just dirt, she said.
“It just took a couple people to catch on. People from Jacksonville realized Green Cove Springs when they saw charm of the water and Spring Park,” Andrea Vallencourt said. “We give our tour, then say, ‘Go check out the water.’ That really seals the deal for them.”
Last week at a small pre-grand opening gathering, Daniel and Andrea Vallencourt were welcoming guests and giving them tours. Daniel Vallencourt said the historic venue needed an uplift that was sustainable, and he hoped it would stick around for another century.
“It’s a big moment for us and a big moment for Green Cove. We’re just excited to be a part of it,” Daniel Vallencourt. “This is the beginning of something new for Green Cove.”