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Camarillo State Mental Hospital

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Title: Camarillo State Mental Hospital  
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Subject: Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, The Snake Pit, J. J. Johnson, Camarillo, California, Hotel California, California State University, Channel Islands, Howard McGhee, The Gypsy, Frances Gifford
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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 bell tower in the South quad has been adopted as the symbol of the university.


In 1932, the State of California purchased 1,760 acres (7.1 km2) of the Lewis ranch, located three miles south of the city of Camarillo, and established the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. Camarillo State Hospital was in use from 1936 to 1997. During the 1950s and 1960s, especially, the hospital was at the forefront of treating illnesses previously thought to be untreatable, for instance, developing drug and therapy procedures for schizophrenia. Programs initiated at Camarillo helped patients formerly relegated to institutions 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 they were transferred to the new Coalinga State Hospital built to house that population.


Pete Wilson, then-governor of California, announced in January 1996 plans to close down the hospital by July 1997, citing low patient numbers and rising costs per patient. 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 current patients were already accustomed to the facility 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. Governor 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.

Site turned into California State University, Channel Islands

Originally the state 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. Some of the buildings of Camarillo have been preserved and revitalized, including many of the original 1930's mission-style buildings, but quite a few appear in various states of disrepair. The university is Ventura County's first public university and is quickly becoming a destination university. It had 2,300 students in 2006, but is expected to grow to 15,000 by 2025.

Camarillo State Hospital in popular culture

Due to the hospital's proximity to the media center of Los Angeles, it 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 detoxifying after a heroin addiction, is a tribute to the facility. The song "Camarillo" by punk outfit Fear also refers to the hospital. The band Ambrosia released a song called "Ready for Camarillo" on their 1978 Life Beyond L.A. album. "Camarillo Brillo" by Frank Zappa is also a reference to the institution. It has been rumored that the Eagles' 1977 "Hotel California" was a reference to Camarillo State Mental Hospital.[1]

  • Much of the 1948 film The Snake Pit, starring Olivia de Havilland, was filmed here.
  • The opening scene from the Wes Anderson film Bottle Rocket 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 it closed, Camarillo was a popular destination for ghost hunters alleging that the hospital is haunted.
  • During the dénouement of some television episodes of the Dragnet series, there were references to captured criminals being sentenced to Camarillo State Hospital.
  • Scenes from The Ring and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were filmed at and around the hospital's grounds.
  • Season 4 of the TV show The Biggest Loser was filmed in 2007 when the site was CSU Channel Islands.
  • Jonathan Kellerman's 2012 thriller "Victims" modelled its Ventura State Hospital after Camarillo State Hospital.
  • In the Magnum, P.I. season three episode, ...By Its Cover, Magnum's old friend from the Navy, "Hot" Rod Crysler, says he served eighteen months at Camarillo for a marijuana possession charge.
  • Camarillo State Mental Hospital is mentioned in Season 4 Episode 14 of The Big Bang Theory. During an improv acting lesson, Sheldon proposes the hospital as the only explanation for why Penny thinks she sells both shoes and frozen yogurt.


External links

  • Camarillo State Hospital Historical Site Current photos and historical information about Camarillo State Mental Hospital
  • Camarillo State Hospital Archive Camarillo State Archives, run by CA State Univ. at Channel Islands, the institution currently on site
  • Camarillo State Hospital Courtyard an informational website intended for former employees and the general public

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