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New Book Highlights South Coast University's Forgotten Past As Home Of A State Mental Hospital

It’s one of the most beautiful, and most unique state university campuses in California. But, the nearly two decade old Cal State Channel Islands campus has a now often forgotten past. Some six decades ago, what was Lewis Ranch was purchased by the State for creation of a mental health facility which would become known as Camarillo State Hospital.

Evelyn Taylor is Cal State Channel Islands Archivist. She and Mary Holt have written a new book about hospital’s history called “Camarillo State Hospital.”

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, the state's mental health facilities were swamped. Taylor says the Camarillo facility was badly needed. She says Ventura County and the Camarillo community embraced the facility, which officially opened in 1936.

At its peak, Camarillo State Hospital covered 750 acres of land, and housed more than 7,000 patients. For many of those who lived there, the staff became their families, because in many cases, relatives never came to visit.

By the 1970’s, advanced in mental health care changed many of the approaches to treatment. There was more emphasis in trying to get people to the point where they could live in the community, instead of a hospital. Taylor says the hospital went through a downsizing process, with mental health facilities impacted by the state budget ax. The hospital closed in 1997.

But, even before it shut its doors, the idea of turning the site into a state university campus was floated. Cal State Channel Islands was officially dedicated in 2002.

Holt says what gives the campus so much of its unique feel are the repurposed Spanish style buildings on campus, which are much more unique than the generic office facilities found at many other state colleges.

The new 127 page book about the University’s past life, “Camarillo State Hospital,” is now available online and selected book stores.