Camarillo State Mental Hospital

Camarillo State Mental Hospital, also known as Camarillo State Hospital,was a psychiatric hospital for both developmentally disabled and mentally ill patients in Camarillo, California. The hospital closed in 1997. The site has been redeveloped as the California State University, Channel Islands. The University has retained the distinctive Mission Revival Style architecture, and the distinctive bell tower in the South quad is now the symbol of the university.


Camarillo State Hospital was located three miles south of the city of Camarillo, California and was in use from 1936 to 1997. During its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, the hospital was at the forefront of treating illnesses that previously had been thought of as untreatable. An example of this was the drug and therapy procedures the facility's doctors developed for schizophrenia. Many of these programs initiated at Camarillo helped patients formerly relegated to a lifetime of warehousing in an institution or lobotomies be able to leave the hospital and move to less restrictive group homes or become (at least nearly) independent. The hospital continued to be a leader in the research of drugs and therapies in subsequent years. They also had one of the first units of any hospital to deal with autism.

Violent criminals were typically housed at Atascadero State Hospital and not at Camarillo State Hospital. Sexually violent predators (SVPs) were housed at Atascadero State Hospital from the mid-1990s until beginning in September 2005 when the brand-new Coalinga State Hospital opened specifically to house SVPs.


Camarillo was no stranger to the abuses that regularly occur in mental hospitals. These included excessive use of restraints and poor supervision of patients. They long received controversy first over warehousing mentally ill people and then of releasing them to the community. Changing ethics over the years meant releasing more of these patients and putting them in community-based group homes rather than in large, costly, and remote hospitals. As a result, the number of patients at Camarillo dropped from 7000 in the 1960s to 900 in 1996.


Due to its low patient number and the rising costs per patient, then California governor Pete Wilson announced in January of 1996 plans to close down the hospital in July 1997. Various members of the community, family members of patients, and employees of Camarillo made several last ditch efforts to keep the hospital open, arguing in part that the patients are already used to Camarillo and questioned where they would go. Some tried to get mentally ill criminals placed in Camarillo in an effort to save it, a proposal that had come up several times before, but again community members were concerned of the risk of criminals escaping into the community. Pete Wilson ended up standing his ground and the hospital closed down in late June 1997, with the patients and research facilities moved to other locations.

ite turned into California State University, Channel Islands

Originally it was intended to turn Camarillo into a prison, but community opposition in part and interest from the Cal State Universities led to its conversion into a university- California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI). CSUCI had its first classes in fall 2002, four years ahead of the original schedule. Most of the buildings of Camarillo have been preserved and revitalized, including all the original 1930s mission-style buildings. The university is Ventura County's first public university and is quickly becoming a destination university. It had 2300 students in 2006, but is expected to grow to 15000 by 2025.

Camarillo State Hospital in movies and music

Due to the proximity to the media center of Los Angeles, the hospital has been referred to in movies, television, and music. Some famous persons suffering from mental illnesses,tuberculosis, or detoxing from drugs or alcohol stayed there to recover in Ventura County's mild climate. Jazzman Charlie Parker's "Relaxin' at Camarillo," written while he was detoxing from heroin addiction, as a tribute to the facility. The song "Camarillo" by punk outfit Fear is also written about the facility. The band Ambrosia released a song called "Ready for Camarillo" on their 1978 "Life Beyond L.A." album. "Ready for Camarillo" also appeared as the single B side of their hit "How Much I Feel." Camarillo Brillo by Frank Zappa is also a reference to the institution.

Perhaps the most famous song associated with the facility was "Hotel California," by The Eagles, which was rumored to be about a stay in a mental hospital. A popular rumor, especially among residents of Ventura County, but this is most likely not true. Don Henley said in a 1995 interview that it was written about "the zeitgeist of the time", meaning about their lifestyle as celebrity musicians in L.A. in the 70s. Those who believe the rumor about it being about the hospital point to lyrics such as "You can check out anytime you want but you can never leave". In addition, Camarillo State Hospital has a "mission bell" tower which is referenced in the song, and The Beverly Hills Hotel towers on the cover of the album look similar to that of CSH. Also, there are other lyrics to point out that the song may have been referencing the hospital such as: "the voices down the corridor", "we are programmed to receive." While these things could in theory refer to a mental hospital, they could also refer to being trapped in a certain lifestyle.

* The opening scene from the Wes Anderson film "Bottle Rocket" in which Owen Wilson's character Dignan helps his friend Luke Wilson's character Anthony escape from a voluntary mental hospital was filmed at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital.
* 'N Sync's mental hospital-set video for "I Drive Myself Crazy" was filmed at Camarillo after the hospital closed.
* After it closed, Camarillo was a popular destination for ghost hunters alleging that the hospital is haunted. A destination on the grounds for Ventura County youth was an allegedly haunted dairy used by the hospital known to locals as "Scary Dairy".
*A well is located on the property that was used in the movie, The Ring.
*During the dénouement of some television episodes of the Dragnet series, there were references to captured criminals being sentenced to Camarillo State Hospital.

External links

* [ Camarillo State Hospital Courtyard] an informational website intended for former employees and the general public

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