Know Your Los Angeles County Poor Farm / Rancho Los Amigos (1888-?) webinar announced

Gentle reader,

Greetings from your friendly historic Los Angeles sightseeing tour company, now offering digital programming until we can again organize groups to gather and explore the city we love.

At 4pm today, we’re going live with our latest immersive cultural history webinar, Learning from Boyle Heights / Saving Los Angeles and we hope you can join us for a story that’s as much about the past as it is our possible futures. We’ve got a bumper crop of fascinating guests, including Sean Carrillo and Daniel Villarreal (members of the ASCO arts collective who got their start on Breed Street at the All Nations Center), preservationist and small business advocate Vivian Escalante (Boyle Heights Community Partners), cultural historian and preservationist Stephen Sass (Breed Street Shul Project), David Silvas (VP of Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council and an advocate for honoring local luminaries), historian and educator David Kipen (Libros Schmibros lending library) and preservationist Steven Luftman (Art Deco Society of Los Angeles). You can watch live and participate in the chat and Q&A, or catch the recording on-demand when it’s published, later this afternoon.

Sign up for the Boyle Heights webinar

We like to preview upcoming webinars when wrapping one up, so here’s a sneak peek for newsletter subscribers. On Sunday, December 12 at 4pm we’re delighted to present a program with historian Colleen Adair Fliedner, based on her remarkable and hard-to-find book Rancho Centennial: Ranchos Los Amigos Medical Center, 1888-1988.

Granted unprecedented access to the site, its archives, staff and former residents, Colleen spent five years compiling her illustrated centennial history of the Poor Farm, from its founding as a safe home and workplace for the indigent and infirm to its transformation into one of eight national polio treatment facilities to the early stages of its second life as an abandoned campus that draws urban explorers and ghost hunters. Can this neglected site become a place of healing and service once again?

Using rare photographs and historical documents, we’ll take you on a virtual tour of Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles circa 1890, to demonstrate why there was such a great need for large scale public health and care facilities like County General Hospital (established 1858) and the County Poor Farm (established 1888). What was Skid Row like at this time, who lived there, and what were their physical and mental needs and challenges?

We’ll meet the progressive policy makers and citizens who wove the social safety net, see how the Poor Farm navigated its growing pains as the County and the population needing public assistance grew, and learn why Los Angeles was so successful in this work when other communities failed.

Then we’ll fast forward to 1928 to spend a virtual day on the Poor Farm. It wasn’t just a live-in care facility for the indigent, aged, injured and infirm, but a working farm, with cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, dairy facilities, and fields planted with fruit, vegetables and flowers and challenged by years of drought and flood.

We’ll meet the administration (including dedicated Supervisor William Ruddy Harrison), staff and some of the residents, visit the Aviary, the Library, the Psychopathic Wards, the huge Kitchen and Laundry, the Auditorium and the newly created Occupational Therapy Department, which employed residents making furniture, producing linens and crafting tools for on-site repairs, encouraging self-sufficiency by each according to their ability and a return to productive life outside the institution.

In 1932, the Poor Farm is renamed Rancho Los Amigos and in 1933 the National Social Security Act provides a monthly income that allows many senior citizens to leave the institution and live independently in boarding houses and residency hotels. The facility adapts to these social changes with a new focus on medical services, providing long-term care, iron lung breathing machines and physical therapy during the polio pandemic.

By the Poor Farm’s 1988 centennial when Colleen’s book was released, the North Campus is a thriving modern trauma and spinal care hospital offering cutting edge treatments and world class care, while the sprawling South Campus is in disrepair, with most of its historic buildings abandoned and old plantings growing wild. Over the next few decades, buildings will be lost to arson fire and neglect, and urban explorers, ghost hunters and vandals attracted to the site despite tall fences and frequent security patrols.

In 2019, the County Supervisors approve a plan to demolish much of the historic campus, and in 2021 work begins on a 5-acre, $12 Million sports complex.

In this webinar, we’ll ask why? Why hasn’t the County, charged with caring for tens of thousands of people experiencing homelessness and the physical and mental ailments that often accompany it, used the enormous South Campus to provide services, housing and aid to those in need, as it was established to do? Have they forgotten about Tent City, the semi-permanent installation of five-man, canvas homes built over wooden floors with shared bathroom facilities that was in use from the 1930s-1950s?

Los Angeles can do so much more, and the past can show us how. So let’s get to Know Your Los Angeles County Poor Farm before it’s gone.

Get your Poor Farm ticket

It’s nearly showtime, and we’ve still got a few details to fine tune for the Learning from Boyle Heights / Saving Los Angeles webinar, so we’ll sign off, as always,

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard