April 18, 2013

Photo Essay: Rancho Los Amigos, Abandoned County Poor Farm, Downey (Exterior—Updated for 2020)

[Last Updated 6/19/20 12:19 PM PT--The Los Angeles Conservancy has launched a campaign to preserve as many of the 100+ buildings as possible, many of which are threatened with razing and have suffered from demolition by neglect by Los Angeles County. From the LA Conservancy website: "On June 23, 2020 the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted in full support of a plan for nearly wholesale demolition and redevelopment of Rancho Los Amigos. This will demolish nearly 60 historic buildings and destroy a nationally-significant historic district." Read more about the campaign here.]

I was excited enough to wander around the exterior and peek inside Linda Vista Hospital, a relatively large, abandoned medical complex in East LA. But then I heard about Rancho Los Amigos in Downey, which is practically an entire town of abandoned hospital facilities.

The former Los Amigos is not to be confused with the currently open Rancho Los Amigos, a very much open rehabilitation center.

Just south of it, across the highway, is a huge complex of other hospital buildings and residences, all abandoned.

They say that when it closed in the 1980s, all the workers and residents left so quickly, they just left everything behind.

They even left the lights on.

[Ed: Superintendent Harriman's house, once eligible for the National Register, burned in a 2017 arson fire and is slated for razing.] 

This complex is where the old Los Angeles County Poor Farm used to be (1888-1906)—once simply called "The Farm"—where paupers of the elderly and disabled variety would be sent to rehabilitate...or not.

Renamed Rancho Los Amigos in 1932, this area also housed the Hollydale Mental Hospital...

...and an old polio ward.

It is famously haunted.

Everything is fenced up and boarded up now...

...but not too long ago, doors swung wide open. Brave souls wandered through. Many got spooked enough to go running out.

The facilities many buildings and support and maintenance structures, however, aren't entirely in disuse.

In 2006, the Marines were using the abandoned buildings as part of a military exercise (reminiscent of the firefighter training that used to happen in Governor's Island's old Coast Guard barracks)...

...when they made a gruesome discovery:

...a freezer in the morgue...

...full of mummified body parts.

[Ed: Historic water tower is eligible for National Register consideration]

Upon investigation, a pathologist explained that the severed body parts were probably from amputees...

...but who knows what else is lurking in these buildings?

power plant

The County Poor Farm opened in 1888, but it continuously expanded over the following decades...

...evoking the same Mission Revival style of the current Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center across the highway...

...and bearing modern ephemera and signage.

Because most of the structures are relatively well-protected and locked up now...

Casa Consuelo patient ward (built 1930), slated for preservation

...they have been able to keep people out of them...

Casa Consuelo patient ward (built 1930), slated for preservation

...but not nature. Trees grow where they can grow, where there are no humans to stop them.

Casa Consuelo patient ward (built 1930), slated for preservation

That being said, someone does come and trim the lawns surrounding the buildings. There was no overgrown grass to be seen lining the sidewalks and open walkways.

Casa Consuelo patient ward (built 1930), slated for preservation

Some of the areas of the old Rancho seem like they must've been quite nice, once, surrounded by palm trees...

...and balconies...

...but gazing at the broken windows on a drizzly, cloudy day...

...the silence and abandonment is enough to make you shudder.

Reportedly, feral cats have taken over many of the cottages and buildings...

...prompting neighbors and animal lovers to set out food to take care of them, a practice which is strictly verboten and prohibited by ubiquitous signage.

I wonder if the cat-feeders know they are also nourishing a giant skunk, who I spooked out of one of the shelters. (I was lucky enough not to get sprayed, but unlucky enough not to get a photo.)

With all the cats there, it's surprising that a couple of people can be spotted walking their dogs...

...but there are areas of this ghost town which are actually quite lovely and open, like by the Art Deco auditorium with its pergola-like shelter [Ed: slated for demolition]. I wanted to get in there.

power plant

With all the No Trespassing signs, there's nothing really keeping anyone from skulking around... long as they respect the boards and fences...

...and it's kind of nice to explore a traffic-free environs in LA County.

But people did once live here...

...and parked here...

...and there are constant reminders of that.

Now, decades after closing, this expansive area remains in limbo... the birds build their nests in the rain gutters...

...the paint peels...

...the locks rust...

...and the lights go out.

Update for 2018: I'd heard that accessing Rancho Los Amigos had become trickier, some intrepid explorers having been shooed away by private security officers or law enforcement. So, I thought I'd go see where things stood, five years later, with my own eyes.

Unfortunately, much of the access to the interior of the "town" has been fenced off, preventing you not only from driving through it but also exploring by foot.

Of course, many of the buildings had already been gated off before, but now you can only explore the perimeter...

...and not any of the interior pathways that lead to the auditorium, administrative housing, etc.

It seems a shame to vanquish such a sprawling property by merely neglecting it.

Considering the housing shortage and the severe homeless situation in Southern California, it's hard to believe such a sprawling property is being wasted.

[Ed: Slated for preservation]

And now, people can no longer ride their bikes or walk their dogs through it as they once were, treating it as a kind of makeshift park—in an area that's severely lacking in publicly accessible open space.

At least people could somewhat enjoy the beautiful decay of Rancho Los Amigos five years ago. But now, the people have been pushed out, padlocks locked, sheriff's patrol car stationed as a lookout. And what for?

The LA Conservancy hasn't given up yet. On its website, encourages supporters of the preservation of Rancho Los Amigos to call Supervisor Janice Hahn at (213) 974-4444 urge her to reconsider. You can also email Ivan Sulic in Hahn's Field Office and cc: Adrian Scott Fine at the Conservancy

To read a nice thorough historic account of Rancho Los Amigos, visit "Ranch of the Friends: The Extraordinary Evolution of the L.A. County Poor Farm" by my friend Hadley Meares on

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Scary Dairy
Photo Essay: Last Chance Look at Linda Vista Hospital (Roof, Boiler Room, Kitchen & More)


  1. This is near my grandmother's house and all this time I had no idea what was there! Thank you for sharing your adventures.

  2. My dad was a patient there for spinal injury rehabilitation. It was a dreadful place then...but, somehow, these pictures really capture the hopeless nature of the place. It was very difficult to find happy stories.

  3. It would be nice if this could be turned into a mixed use housing development. There looks to be some great old architecture.

  4. I spent a lot of time here as a child in the 1960's. My grandmother was the head dietician and my grandfather an x-ray technitian. They lived in an apartment on the grounds when I was about 1-2 and then moved to a cottage that was in a group of cottages. I think there about 8-10 in a square with a garden area in the middle. The cottage they lived in was in the front by the street and if I remember right the basketball court was right across the street. I used to go with my grandfather when he was on call an had to go to the childrens ward and played with the children. I remember many of the buildings in the pictures, but don't see a picture of the cottages. I know this place does not hold fond memories for some, but for me it does.

  5. I was a nurse here in the 70's and we once had a class across the street from the main hospital and it was then that I learned a little of it's existence. I am fascinated by the pictures and reporting. Thank you so much for doing this.

  6. I met my wife there in the late 70's. She was a recent graduate from UBC in Vancouver BC and was serving an affiliation in occupational therapy. She was living in Casa Consuelo with many other women of several medical professions. All serving their various affiliations. At the time I was a single guy living at the beach in Redondo Beach with a few male friends when one of them suggested I contact his sister who was one of the tenants there. The story has an interested twist to it since I was eventually asked to occupy an unused upstairs room and be a "FRIEND" for anyone interested in friendship. It was there that I eventually met and married my former wife. We had a fabulous life until her untimely passing at the age of 40. I am since then remarried and a few years back my wife and I were driving through the Rancho facility when I spotted the Consuelo building.
    After my wifes' encouragement we went inside and started up the wide staircase to the dorm level on the second floor. Halfway up a young woman coming down stopped and mentioned to us that the top floor was off limits to men. I said; yes, I know.
    After a moment the woman just looked at me and said, "YOU'RE HIM AREN'T YOU".
    It's breaks my heart to hear the building may be torn down.
    Al Valentini

    1. What a terrific story!! I'm do glad you were able to revisit it in later years before all the buildings were abandoned.

  7. I recently learned through research that was the last known place that my grandfather resided in. Very little was known since both his children became wards of the state. The only memory my mother had was seeing her father in a court house. Her memory was not a happy one. Unfortunately she passed away before I could locate this place. I took my son to this location this year and yes we broke the law (renegades that we are). It is such a shame to see this place go to complete waste especially when we currently face a huge homeless population. I have heard their are plans to tear it all down except for a few buildings. This is why I broke the law and crossed the fence line. I wanted to know where my grandfather lived before he died. While I have some closure, there is still a lot of unknown answers. I know my grandfather had a drinking problem. I know that in the early times, people with drinking problems were deemed as mentally ill. The only question I have left is what did he die from. No cause of death was listed on his death certificate. Just this location. For a medical facility, I find it hard to fathom why nothing was listed as a cause of death. I pray that the rumors of this place being torn down are wrong. I do plan on going back regardless of the rules. I feel this place robbed me of a grandfather I never got a chane to know.

    1. I used to sneak into that place almost every weekend and there was a building with all the medical files if you spent a couple days in there you probably could've found it, alot were dirty on the outside but it said everything why they were there, time of death and all that

  8. My Mom worked in !medical records at Rancho since the seventies. She eventually retired from Rancho. We also lived across the street form Rancho. We lived on Garden dale. Such great memories!

  9. It’s a shame it’s been fenced off.

  10. I was a patient here I have multiple sclerosis I was there a week never saw anything

  11. I want to know what happened to the cats. Are they ok? Does anyone care?

  12. Anonymous
    I too live, walking distance from the south side old Rancho Los amigos. And worked for L.A County Rancho 1100 building in the late 70’s to late 80’s as we moved to the north side. There were a lot of memories there but one that I fell sad about were the guest cottages Spanish style across from our unit that eventually got demolished and disappeared around the mid 80’s now I walk my dogs in campus with a mix of new and old still very quiet place to walk.

  13. Wow! I never knew this existed.. Very surprised that nobody has poured it down and put big structures on it like they do everything else. I would love to rehabilitate this Do not only help the homeless, but create a career center that would help them as well. There's plenty of room for sustainable living. tearing it down would be a shame restoring it however.
    That would be fun. I'm also a ghostbuster so I would love to film the paranormal activity going on. If you could please provide me with somebody that I could talk to. That would be amazing.

    1. Hello, you can contact Los Angeles County

  14. Wow! I never knew this existed.. Very surprised that nobody has poured it down and put big structures on it like they do everything else. I would love to rehabilitate this Do not only help the homeless, but create a career center that would help them as well. There's plenty of room for sustainable living. tearing it down would be a shame restoring it however.
    That would be fun. I'm also a ghostbuster so I would love to film the paranormal activity going on. If you could please provide me with somebody that I could talk to. That would be amazing.