Sitting abandoned since the 1980’s, the L.A. County Poor Farm, later known as Rancho Los Amigos in Downy, CA was a place of refuge for the destitute, the infirm, the addicted, and the elderly.

The LA 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.

The Farm got its start in 1887 when the county purchased 124.4 acres within the city limits of where Downy, CA is presently located.

 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 buildings were built in a U-shaped design with a central courtyard separating female living areas on the north, male quarters on the south and a dining hall 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 the age of 60. The farm quickly expanded to 227 acres.

The farm’s first residents arrived in December 1888. As the population increased, 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."

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 delightful innovation of housing the homeless and unfortunate in such environments belongs exclusively to Southern California, for no other part of America bears record of having done likewise.” The Times’ account explained that the farm operated with an eye toward being self-sustaining, not profit-oriented. “There is no intention of going into extensive agriculture for financial profit because such an arrangement would bring pauper labor into competition with the farmers,” it stated.

Still, the farm raised $10,061 in 1901 from the sale of oranges, livestock and dairy products. Operating costs that year totaled $32,914 -- or about 341/2 cents per day for each of the farm's residents.

The farm raised $10,061 in 1901 but the operating costs that year totaled $32,914. Hardy self-sustaining.

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.

Male residents lived in immense dorms with as many as 30 beds along the walls.

By 1910, the Poor Farm covered nearly 400 acres.

By 1910, the Poor Farm had grown into nearly 400 acres.

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.

It was renamed “Sunny Acres” in 1931 and its farming operations were shut down after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s social welfare programs kicked in.

The place operated as the Rancho Los Amigos hospital for chronic illnesses until the 1950s, when a polio epidemic turned it into a rehabilitation center. The southern campus of the Rancho Los Amigos Hospital is often referred to as the "Hollydale Mental Hospital" or the "Downey Insane Asylum" in contemporary times, however these misnomers paint an incorrect picture of the hospital's past use, which was much broader than just caring for the mentally ill.

The place operated as the Rancho Los Amigos hospital for chronic illnesses until the 1950s, when a polio epidemic turned it into a rehabilitation center. The southern campus of the Rancho Los Amigos Hospital is often referred to as the “Hollydale Mental Hospital” or the “Downey Insane Asylum” in contemporary times, however these misnomers paint an incorrect picture of the hospital’s past use, which was much broader than just caring for the mentally ill.

The hospital was located in the former town of Hondo, which was absorbed by Downey in the 1950s.

Built in 1888 as a catch-all institution for the LA County Medical Center; it was the place where the handicapped, homeless, insane and elderly in the county were cared for. Funded by county bond money, it was simply called the County Poor Farm. Here, able-bodied residents could work on a large farm which sustained most of the hospital’s dietary needs, in lieu of paying for room and board and medical care.

These tenants were typically the homeless who drank too often, and just needed a few sober weeks of manual labor on the farm.

The tenants during this time were typically the homeless who drank too often, and just needed a few sober weeks of manual labor on the farm.

In 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic hit the area, and the facility began treating all victims rather than just the indigent, and the word "Poor" was simply stricken from the name of the facility.

In 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic hit the area, and the facility began treating all victims rather than just the indigent. The word “Poor” was eventually dropped from the name of the facility.

The hospital expanded greatly in the 1920s to alleviate overcrowding conditions and rebuild flood-damaged structures, leading to the construction of the Spanish Colonial Revival buildings seen today.

The hospital expanded greatly in the 1920s which lead to the construction of the Spanish Colonial Revival buildings seen today.

In 1932, the name of the institution was changed once again to Rancho Los Amigos, which translates to "Ranch of the Friends." The wide range of activities offered at the hospital were making it a legendary place to receive physical and occupational therapy; swimming, woodworking and weaving proved to help restore broken limbs and spirits.

In 1932, the name of the institution was changed once again to Rancho Los Amigos, which translates to “Ranch of the Friends.”

One example was that of a man with a badly crippled left arm and hand; the therapist placed a sanding block in it and directed the patient to sand furniture, which exercised the muscles and the patient also earned his own stipend to spend at the hospital store.

 

After the Long Beach earthquake disaster in 1933, a large group of Rancho patients flooded the county supervisor Roger Jessup's office.

During World War II, the U.S. Army turned part of the hospital grounds into Camp Morrow. After the war was over it became a long-term care facility for victims of polio.

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.

By the late 1950s, the farm, dairy, and mental health wards had closed, and most of the 600 acre property was divided and sold.

By the late 1950s, the farm, dairy, and mental health wards had closed, and most of the 600-acre property was divided and sold. Rancho continued to operate as a modern chronic-disease hospital, and later, as a world-renowned rehabilitation center. All these operations were consolidated and moved to Rancho’s north campus, a 62-acre hospital site that still operates today. The 70-acre south campus didn’t fare so well and is now a ghost town.

The U.S. Marine Corps occasionally used the south campus to perform military training drills. During one of the exercises, troops opened a freezer in a former pathology building and discovered a package full of mummified body parts. The coroner's office identified 10 legs, feet and brain matter, and determined that these were amputated medical specimens, rather than the result of foul play. An L.A. Times article reports that they were simply "forgotten in a long-ago move."

The U.S. Marine Corps occasionally used the south campus to perform military training drills. During one of the exercises, troops opened a freezer in a former pathology building and discovered a package full of mummified body parts. The coroner’s office identified 10 legs, feet and brain matter, and determined that these were amputated medical specimens, rather than the result of foul play.

Redevelopment plans for the south campus have languished for the most part, but a few buildings have been re-purposed.

Redevelopment plans for the south campus have languished for the most part, but a few buildings have been re-purposed. The city of Downy uses some of the buildings for staging, building and storing their annual Rose Parade float entries. 

Asbestos, lead paint, mold and animal feces are just a few of the things one would encounter if they attempted to enter any of the sealed off buildings.

Asbestos, lead paint, mold and animal feces are just a few of the things one would encounter if they attempted to enter any of the sealed off buildings. Don’t feed the cats!!!!

Yeah right, cats rule this land and rumor has it that the interiors of most of these buildings are infested with fleas.

Yeah right, cats rule this land and rumor has it that the interiors of most of these buildings are infested with fleas.

Since I was unable to get into the Art Deco auditorium/theater, I did a little digging and found somebody who did. Photo Credit: Tom Kirsch

Since I wasn’t going to attempt to get into the Art Deco auditorium/theater, I did a little digging and found somebody who did.      Photo Credit: Tom Kirsch

Gorgeous

The end.     Photo Credit: Tom Kirsch