Sunny Acres Detention Facility
Originally opened as the Children’s Home at Sunny Acres for orphaned children in 1931, Sunny Acres, sitting on a hillside above a central California valley, came into existence with the optimistic goal a community helping those less fortunate during the Great Depression. Serving as a home for orphans and wards of the court, over time reality had a way of eroding the optimism, until in its later years it became Sunny Acres Juvenile Hall, and eventually was given the nickname Hell’s Acres.
Staffed by a matron and a maid, records noted cause for admittance included misbehavior and trouble in school, the death or imprisonment of parents, and a couple instances children being left at the facility by a parent.
A report from 1936 listed the cost per child per day at $1.12.
Over time, the facility increasingly took on more “difficult” children, until the mid-50’s when serious discussions ensued of placing locks on the doors and creating a ‘security ward’ within the building.
Reports say that in 1959, a gang of teenage inmates at the facility bound and gagged a female worker before taking her purse and her car and fleeing for the Mexican border, though they were eventually detained at the border. Events like this hastened further discussions about the need to make more secure the building, while the county was also in discussions with an architect regarding the construction of a new juvenile detention facility.
Becoming further and further distant from its initial aim to take on and support orphaned children, Sunny Acres’ functional purpose shifted more to housing troubled children.
Eventually the county approved the construction of a new juvenile detention center, and Sunny Acres was closed in 1974. The building has remained vacant since.
Local lore claims this building was an insane asylum; the irony of this being that though the building has never actually served as a mental asylum, in late 2014 it was purchased and, awaiting adequate funding, will be converted into a residential facility for people coping with mental illness.
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