Hollydale Mental Hospital

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Hollydale Mental Hospital
Construction Began 1887
Opened 1888
Current Status Closed
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Downey, CA
Alternate Names
  • County Poor Farm
  • Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, Southern Campus
  • Downey Insane Asylum
  • Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center


The Poor Farm got its start in 1887 when the county purchased 124.4 acres and hired the team of architects who had designed the Pico House in the Olvera Street area, St. Vibiana Cathedral and USC's Widney Hall. They came up with a U-shaped design with a central courtyard separating female living areas on the north, male quarters on the south and a dining building at one end. The farm's first residents arrived by horse-drawn wagon in December 1888. During the 1890s, the population grew from 125 to about 200 indigents, most over age 60. The farm quickly expanded to 227 acres.

In its day, the county Poor Farm was an anomaly. A 1902 story in The Times described the place as "wrapped in sunbeams and wreathed with flower gardens." "The Los Angeles County Poor Farm visibly resents the incongruity of it name," the story said. The story described male residents' living quarters as "immense," with as many as 30 beds along the walls. Three men's wards opened to a central courtyard, and each resident was provided with bedding, a chair and a small bed stand. There was a large reading room filled with several hundred books "for those who can read," the story reported. Another building housed female residents.

By 1910, the Poor Farm covered nearly 400 acres. A Times report that year described the farm's four main brick buildings as being shaded by evergreens and palms. "At first glance the place might be thought a comfortable, old-fashioned country mansion." The paper noted that the farm's newest building -- "the insane ward" -- was a one-story structure that housed 25 "harmless" patients.

The Poor Farm was renamed "Sunny Acres" in 1931 by officials seeking a "less odious name," as one county supervisor put it. The farming operation was phased out in the '30s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's social welfare programs kicked in. During World War II, the U.S. Army turned part of the hospital grounds into Camp Morrow, and at the same time the facility operated as an emergency hospital. It was reorganized once again as a long-term care facility after the war, mostly for victims of polio. Entire wards were filled with iron lungs in the 1950s, humming and clicking away, breathing for the victims inside as they recuperated. The facility operated as the Rancho Los Amigos hospital for chronic illnesses until the 1950s, when a polio epidemic turned it into a rehabilitation center.

In the 1980's the building was shut down and replaced by the newly remodeled Rancho Los Amigos Hospital.