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Know Your Los Angeles County Poor Farm / Rancho Los Amigos (1888-?)
December 12, 2021 @ 4:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Join Esotouric, L.A.’s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, for an immersive cultural history webinar exploring 133 years of the Rancho Los Amigos south campus in Downey, its landmark architecture and landscape, its progressive social and medical innovations, colorful characters, legends and mysteries, decades of neglect and the current demolition threat from the County Supervisors.
Our very special guest for this program is Colleen Adair Fliedner, author of the book "Rancho Centennial: Ranchos Los Amigos Medical Center, 1888-1988."
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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Using rare photographs and historical documents, we’ll take you on a virtual tour of Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles circa 1890, to demonstrate why there was such a great need for large scale public health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.
This webinar is an illustrated lecture packed with rare photos that will bring the story of the County Poor Farm / Rancho Los Amigos to life. And you’ll find the look of an Esotouric webinar is a little different than your standard dry Zoom session, with lively interactive graphics courtesy of the mmhmm app.
Colleen is eager to answer your questions, so get ready to be a part of the show.
ABOUT OUR GUEST:
COLLEEN ADAIR FLIEDNER is an award-winning author, journalist, and historian. She has written three nonfiction books, radio and t.v. commercials, screenplays, and hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines, and online publications. She was a staff writer for the Orange County Register newspaper’s online travel website and was a regular contributor for Talking Travel Radio Network based on the East Coast. "In the Shadow of War: Spies, Love & the Lusitania" is her first novel. Colleen began her professional career as a research historian, writer, and oral historian at California State University, Long Beach. Her first nonfiction history book "Rancho Centennial: Ranchos Los Amigos Medical Center, 1888-1988" was written for the County of Los Angeles, a five-year-long project which required conducting more than 100 oral history interviews and combing through historic ledgers, photographs, and dusty, long-forgotten boxes of old documents. Her next two books were a history about Park City, Utah, “Stories in Stone: Miners and Madams, Merchants and Murders,” and “Quick Escapes from Orange County." Her latest project is a nonfiction book, “Fascinating True Stories from Old California,” a compilation of interesting accounts of some of the Golden State’s most unique people, places, and things. Colleen lives in Orange, California with her husband, Rick, and two Pomeranians. Visit Colleen’s Website for more information.
Can’t join in when the webinar is happening? You’ll have access to the full replay for one week. Please note: the 2-hour running time is just an estimate, and we often run long because the stories take on a life of their own. You can always come back and watch the last part of the webinar recording later.
So, tune in and discover the incredible history of Los Angeles, with the couple whose passion for the city is infectious.
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About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one another on sight. (Perhaps less inexplicably, their academic advisor believed they were soul mates). A chance meeting 18 years later proved much more agreeable. Richard wooed Kim with high level library database access, with which she launched the 1947project true crime blog, highlighting a crime a day from the year of The Black Dahlia and Bugsy Siegel slayings. The popular blog’s readers demanded a tour, and then another. The tour was magical, a hothouse inspiring new ways for the by-then-newlyweds to tell the story of Los Angeles. Esotouric was born in 2007 with a calendar packed with true crime, literary, architecture and rock and roll tours. Ever since, it has provided a platform for promoting historic preservation issues (like the Save the 76 Ball campaign and the landmarking of Charles Bukowski’s bungalow), building a community of urban explorers (including dozens of free talks and tours under the umbrella of LAVA) and digging even deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.
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