Rancho Los Amigos Preservation / Demolition Status Report (July 2022)

a visit to the National Register district that Los Angeles County is presently reducing to rubble, with a mini tour of the central quad we're fighting to protect


Gentle reader,

Once upon a time in South Los Angeles County, a progressive community was formed, using the vast resources of local government, to provide care and safety for the most vulnerable among us.

On fertile soil rich from centuries of floods rose a sprawling campus of dormitories, medical facilities, entertainment halls, craft workshops, cafeteria, laundry, dairy, farm, flower fields, morgue and cemetery. Here lived the elderly infirm, the mentally unstable, women suffering from post-partum depression, grizzled 49-ers with nobody left to see that they ate supper, those who were out of work and without a home. It was known as the County Poor Farm, then later under the enlightened management of William R. Harriman as Rancho Los Amigos, ranch of the friends.

Over the decades, this vast campus served the people, until it was determined by County leaders that the old ways of communal care were no longer best. The property has been carved up, the northern section modernized as a world class rehabilitation center, the southern part allowed to fall into a sad state of neglect, suffering vandalism, theft of copper wire and roof flashing, tagging and fires, so many fires.

As housing insecurity exploded in Los Angeles, Rancho Los Amigos sat derelict and unused, dust blowing across the huge expanse that once housed a tent village for homeless Angelenos. And then the County Supervisors, irked by the fires set by arsonists undeterred by weak chain link fence, decided to demolish the attractive nuisance. This demolition is ongoing.

We love Rancho Los Amigos, both the historic campus and the inspiring story of the enlightened social services provided on the land. And we’ve made it one of our historic preservation causes to share the forgotten stories of the place—working closely with our friend Colleen Adair Fliedner, author of Rancho’s official centennial history book, advocating that the lightning struck 1888 Bunya Bunya tree not be chopped down, telling the stories of the land in an on-demand webinar, and engaging in a series of meetings with the County, asking that the massive demolition plan spare the central Morgan and Walls-designed quad, so that the community can enjoy an intact 19th century landscape and learn about the good work done here.

It’s hard to bear witness to all the fine buildings that have been burned down or torn down in just the past few months, but we feel that we are making progress. The injured Bunya Bunya tree has not been chopped down, but instead fenced and watered in hopes that it might recover from its electrical wounds. We’re in ongoing discussions about removing William R. Harriman’s fire-damaged Craftsman home from the demolition list, with the aim of forming a foundation to restore it as an interpretive museum and community center. And with each visit, we discover more that is wonderful and worth preserving, even as big pieces of old Rancho Los Amigos are lost forever to the demolition crews.

This video is a report from the central quad as it stands today, a holy place of healing and hope. One day we would like to invite you to meet us here, to hear about the history and personalities that called it home. Until then, please join us in holding Rancho Los Amigos in your heart, so that the heart of the campus might be preserved for all of us to learn from and enjoy.

yours for Los Angeles,

Kim & Richard


Psst… If you’d like to support our efforts to be the voice of places worth preserving, we have a tip jar and a subscriber edition of this newsletter, vintage Los Angeles webinars available on demand, in-person walking tours, and a souvenir shop you can browse in. Or just share this link with other people who care.

UPCOMING TOURS: We’ve got a pair of cool late morning Downtown history tours coming up, each departing from Grand Central Market. On Saturday, August 6 it’s Raymond Chandler’s Noir Downtown Los Angeles. (Can’t make it? We also have a Chandler webinar that you can view on-demand). Then on August 13 we’ll be exploring Broadway, to talk about the rise, decline and potential of this beautiful mess of a National Register Historic Theatre District.