Camarillo State Mental Hospital

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Camarillo State Mental Hospital was a psychiatric hospital for both developmentally disabled and mentally ill patients in Camarillo, California.[1] 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 (710 ha) 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.[2] 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. A dairy was built adjacent to the hospital for the patients to grow vegetables and work with the animals as a form of therapy.

This hospital was also known to treat alcoholism. One of the former patients, Wilma Wilson, wrote "They Call Them Camisoles" (Lymanhouse, 1940) about her short stay in 1939. The "camisole" was referring to restraints that were used on some of the patients. Jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker stayed at the hospital in 1946 after a term in jail. His six-month stay inspired the tune "Relaxin' at Camarillo", which has become a bebop standard.

There was a youth program from 1947-1986 known as the Children's Treatment Center Complex. It was for 168 youth ages 7–18.(

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.


In January 1996, Governor Pete Wilson announced 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.[3] The hospital closed down in late June 1997, with the patients and research facilities moved to other locations.[citation needed]

Site turned into California State University, Channel Islands[edit]

The Bell Tower Building of California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo, California. Formerly Camarillo State Hospital. Photo 2007.

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. Some of the buildings of Camarillo have been preserved and revitalized, including many of the original 1930's mission-style buildings.

Camarillo State Hospital in popular culture[edit]

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. Jazz musician Charlie Parker's "Relaxin' at Camarillo", written while he was detoxifying after a heroin addiction, is a tribute to the facility. Other patients included the actor/performer Oscar Levant and the jazz pianist Phineas Newborn Jr..

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. It has been rumored that the Eagles' 1977 "Hotel California" was a reference to Camarillo State Mental Hospital.[4]

  • Much of the 1948 film The Snake Pit, starring Olivia de Havilland, was filmed here.
  • The 1972 slasher movie Pigs, distributed by Troma, had scenes shot 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 modeled 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.
  • In the Big Bang Theory season 4 episode 14, ″'The Thespian Catalyst″, Sheldon Cooper says to Penny the following: "Yes. I see a sign. It says 'Camarillo State Mental Hospital'" during their lesson of improvisation acting.[5]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Camarillo State Hospital (historical)
  2. ^ Zaballos, Nausica. Vie et Mort d'un hôpital psychiatrique, le Camarillo Hospital (1936-1996), L'Harmattan, 2014, pp.118-120
  3. ^ Zaballos, Nausica. Vie et mort d'un hôpital psychiatrique : le Camarillo Mental Hospital (1936-1996), L'Harmattan, may 2014, pp.162-176
  4. ^ Bishop, Greg. Weird California (2006): 228
  5. ^

5. "They Call Them Camisoles" by Wilma Wilson

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°9′45″N 119°2′26″W / 34.16250°N 119.04056°W / 34.16250; -119.04056