"What the human eye observes casually and incuriously, the eye of the camera notes with relentless fidelity"... Bernice Abbott

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Death of a Hospital

The Santa Ana Hospital Medical Center served central Orange County for decades and was once one of three local trauma centers in the county.  During the late 1980’s, violent crime was on the rise in Santa Ana and many victims would spend their last moments on a hospital gurney inside this hospital.  In 1990, the trauma center was closed due to cost. Still unable to compete with larger hospitals, the Medical Center would close its doors forever by the late 1990’s.


As the hospital fell into disrepair, thieves, vandals and junkies would break in to steal what wasn’t bolted down and then return for what was. On-sight security would be hired to watch over the vacant building as numerous potential investors would pass through its halls. The hospital seemed cursed as it continued to remain vacant even during the height of the real estate boom. While developers snatched up blighted and vacant property in the north and south ends of the city, the hospital property remained dormant.

For many years, I had heard stories that the hospital is haunted. Some of my associates have been in the facility and claimed to have heard children’s voices and the patter of little feet in the children’s ward while others have been overcome by a sudden chill when the facility has no working air conditioner.

Security Guard Paul Sowers was kind enough to shed some light on these claims.  While he personally hadn’t seen or heard anything that would qualify as paranormal, there have been several guards who, over the years, abruptly quit after claiming to have seen people or apparitions passing through the hallways while on their rounds.  Room by room searches would be conducted after these sightings but they would always come up empty handed.


Paul took the time to show me around and I was surprised how well kept many areas of the hospital were.  Non-essential medical supplies were still in drawers and scrubs were hanging on racks. So with camera in tow, I began taking initial photographs of the hospital and would continue to do so in the coming months.  Paul trusted me enough to let me roam freely throughout the facility, day or night. This freedom allowed me to become familiar with the hospital’s many characteristics but by the end of 2010, Paul and his crew would be gone and the new property owners would erect a fence around facility, leaving it vulnerable to vandals, thieves and junkies once again.

One day, an opportunity arose that allowed me to return to the hospital to photograph it. By now, the place had been stripped of all its wiring and there were no working lights. Holes had been cut through graffiti covered walls, and ceiling tiles littered the floors as every inch of copper wiring and plumbing had been mined from the hospital.

Guided only by my flashlight, I walked through the surgical area of the hospital that was once so familiar to me but had now evolved into an eerie criminal playground with far too many places for one to lay in wait.  The place had become too dangerous for me remain alone so I packed my gear and made my way to find the distant exit. I had never experienced paranormal activity during my any of my previous visits, but as I walked through the darkened hallways I sensed that I was not alone.

I began to feel as though someone was watching me as this once treasured and captivating place had transformed into an unfamiliar labyrinth lined with abysmally dark recesses; the type of place that engulfs a child’s nightmare. Surrounded by the darkness, I became disoriented as I searched in vain for that once familiar exit. The darkness seemed so dense that the beam from my flashlight scarcely penetrated it.

Time seemed to crawl as I shined my light into each passing room until I finally caught a glimpse of daylight off in the distance.  As I neared the exit, a sudden chill enveloped me, sending a shiver through my body. As I kept making my way toward the door, I began to wonder if what I was feeling was just my imagination or were the spirits who died here inviting me to stay a little longer?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Silent Sentinals

Growing up on the east side of Santa Ana, the sound of helicopters flying in and out of the Tustin base permeated the air.  The pulsating thump of the blades from the CH 53 Sea Stallions and the Bell Huey helicopters reverberated throughout my childhood and even provided a sense of security.  Driving past the base provided a sense of awe in child's eye with their two massive blimp hangars, the largest free-standing structures west of the Mississippi. The hangars rise nearly 300 feet and are wide and long enough fit seven 747's nose to tail or six football fields side by side.

With the announcement of  the Defense Base Closure Realignment Act of 1990, the gates of Marine Corp Air Station Tustin would be officially closed in 1999 and the once proud base that protected our coast since World War II would be allowed to decay like an abandoned vehicle in an empty lot.

Even though the base property was being served up to developers, my fascination and appreciation of the base never ended.  Preservationist battled developers and their politicians who were more than happy to hand over land in exchange for their residential and retail tax dollars. Once toxic dump sites were cleaned up, development would begin in earnest.  High density residential development began to rise on the northwest side of the base while a large retail development, known as The District, anchored the southeast portion.

Through some of my contacts, I was fortunate enough to bypass the insurmountable protocols in order to be allowed on the property to photograph the structures.  One was through an unpaid assignment for a labor groups' website and the other was through a chance meeting with someone who's company was in a bidding war for the south hangar.  Their plan to create an indoor off-road motorcycle venue never came to fruition.

Concrete ammunition bunkers were once located on the east side of the base property, near Jamboree.  The area surrounding the bunker was slated for environmental clean-up that included the removal of the bunkers.

Despite the economic collapse, development continues but has slowed to a snail's pace.  When driving into The District, I am amazed at how many people still stop alongside the road to take in the sight of these massive hangars. Yet, as cities throughout Orange County continue to rid the landscape of its architectural history, these silent sentinels still stand in defiance of the changes around them.