In 1932, the California government purchased 1,760 acres of land in Lewis Ranch in order to build the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. The hospital was used from 1936 to 1997. It was the pioneer in treating illnesses that were thought to be untreatable, such as developing drugs and therapies for schizophrenia and dealing with autism (being one of the first hospitals to deal with it).
Camarillo’s patients were not criminally dangerous; those who were were sent to Atascadero State Hospital. In January, 1996, California governor Pete Wilson announced plans to close the hospital in the July of 1997. Members of the community, family members of the patients and employees, and the employees of Camarillo made efforts to keep the hospital open.
Several of those advocates attempted to convince the hospital to accept mentally ill criminals as a way to save Camarillo, but many people were against the idea out of concern that they would be too dangerous and would escape. In the end, Governor Wilson did not listen to them, and continued to close the hospital in June, 1997, a month earlier than planned. Patients were relocated to other hospitals.
The location was planned turn into a university by 1998. However, it took four years longer than expected, and didn’t open until 2002. Now, it is the California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI). It is believed to be haunted by those who died at the hospital.
In Popular Culture
- A number of movies, TV shows, and music videos have been produced here due to its close location to Los Angeles. Songs referring to the hospital include “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” by Charlie Parker, “Camarillo” by Fear, “Ready for Camarillo” by Ambrosia, and “Camarillo Brillo” by Frank Zappa. ‘N Sync’s set for “I Drive Myself Crazy” was filmed at the hospital.
- 1948 film The Snake Pit was filmed here. The movie starred Olivia de Havilland.
- The opening scene from Bottle Rocket was filmed at the hospital.
- After it closed, ghost hunters visited the hospital often, saying it was haunted.
- In a few episodes of the Dragnet series, there were references to criminals being sentenced to Camarillo State Hospital.
- Scenes from The Ring and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were filmed at and around the hospital.
- Season 4 of The Biggest Loser was filmed in 2007 when the site was CSUCI.
- Jonathan Kellerman’s 2012 thriller “Victims” modelled its Ventura State Hospital after Camarillo State Hospital.