"I wonder what kind of state this place will be in, in five years," I said pessimistically as I wandered through the quiet neighborhood streets of the Lanterman Developmental Center in Pomona, a notoriously haunted place that officially announced its closure in 2010 but won't be totally vacated until the end of this year.
When Lanterman originally opened as the Pacific Colony in 1917 in the nearby town of Walnut, it was devoted to housing the "feeble-minded" as "inmates," protecting society (mostly, the residents of the now-ghost town Spadra) from their "insanity." It moved to its current location in Pomona in 1927. The Colony was renamed the Pacific State Hospital in 1953, when a shift in understanding about disabilities meant that disabled residents were newly considered "patients."
These days, another shift and few new definitions later, disabilities are now seen as "special needs," and Lanterman refers to its residents as "clients."
Lanterman's announced closure in 2010 was heavily opposed by many advocates, parents and family members of its residents, despite its troubled and storied past. During its normal operations, the care facility was heavily criticized for resident injuries and even deaths - some as a result of abuse, others neglect, others under more suspicious circumstances, many not reported. One man was slain, his killer never found.
Walking through the campus on New Year's Day, I could just feel vandals biding their time, waiting for the site to be completely abandoned before coming in and breaking windows, tagging walls, and setting fires. I'm sure ghost-hunters are chomping at the bit.
For now, it's just peaceful and quiet. It hasn't yet become derelict. Some of the buildings are a bit shabby, but nothing is exactly languishing.
In fact, most of the grounds still look cared-for: the roses still in bloom, the lawns manicured and fertilized, the gates closed and the doors locked.
But if you figure out how to get into the facility...
...the signs of neglect...
...though in its early stages...
No one waits at the tram stops...
...and the tram remains parked...
There is basically no traffic to direct...
...though our car passed a few others, all parked.
On one side of the train tracks, there are operational facilities...
...some still in use, providing support services to the remaining developmentally disabled still receiving treatment.
Some haven't been in use in a long time. The center (including its acute hospital unit) reached its peak in the late 1960s, when its population reached nearly 3000.
It's a huge facility with dozens of buildings along named streets across over 300 acres - much like a military base, much like a planned community, for one reason or another rendered a ghost town. Its current population is less than 10% of its peak.
On the other side of the train tracks, there are staff residences...
...whose lawns need raking...
...whose stoops need sweeping...
...but whose windows remain unbroken, and doors remain locked.
It's interesting to visit a site like this at this stage...
...before it's trespassing...
You have to look for the decay - like the flower boxes falling off their widow sills - but it is there.
But there are flowers still, and there is whimsy.
There are plenty of recreational areas, though perhaps no longer being used.
Lanterman Developmental Center must complete its closure and full vacancy by December 31, 2014. It's not abandoned yet, but it will be.
What will become of this sprawling state property and its 120 buildings? Will it be fenced off, or left open for runners and dog-walkers and bicyclists?
Will it attract derelicts and tumbleweeds?
Will the reported hauntings worsen, those who have passed increasingly stirring in their unrest?
Will it be razed? What will be built in its place?
After all, conditions at the nearby facility for the criminally insane, the California Colony, got so bad in the early 1920s that it was shut down, and the LA County Fairgrounds (including Fairplex and the Halloweentime Fearplex) opened in its place, some relics of the former Colony available for occasional touring.
We shall see.
History of Lanterman Developmental Center (State of California Department of Developmental Services)
The strange but true story of Fearplex at Pomona (InsidetheIE.com)
Photo Essay: Where the Dead Rest in a Dead Village
Photo Essay: Rancho Los Amigos, Abandoned County Poor Farm, Downey (Exterior)