High upon a hill in the heart of beautiful San Luis Obispo, California, the creepy Sunny Acres detention facility lurks above the former San Luis Obispo County General Hospital, affording a view of the city that some say is unparalleled. It has a very dark history and has reinvented itself several times from orphanage to juvenile offender facility. Some old-timers even claim it was a TB sanatorium for a brief time. Boarded up for nearly 40 years, this two-story brick building – known for its exquisite Romanesque architecture – looks quite ominous, haunted and gothic. It is owned by the cash-strapped county of San Luis Obispo, although located within city limits. The county, city and local residents have advocated for preserving the building, but it is nearing collapse and is very hazardous due to the heavy presence of asbestos and lead. In addition, vandalism and neglect have taken their toll.
In late August 2011, the county approved the sale of the building so that it could be converted into a bluff-top home. It appears another mega-mansion may be built, affording some millionaire stunning views. So much for historic preservation. This building is one of the few places to shoot UrbEx (urban exploration) photography in the county, so many of us are distressed that this historic site may soon be bulldozed over. It is difficult to convey the allure of derelict structures to a non-photographer who does not appreciate the history of places and the people who once lived or worked in them. This historic building has a real ethereal and other-world quality to it, so perhaps its legacy (or haunts) will be passed on to the new owner. Just in time for Halloween. Sweet dreams.
During a spring visit, I photographed the outside of the building, the grounds, and a few rooms in the basement. Entry is impossible (unless you are a bird) and dangerous (lead and asbestos everywhere), but I managed to squeeze my lens through the window bars and photograph the basement, thanks to HDR technology. The first photo in the series above was taken in front of the main entrance to the facility, and is comprised of a series of HDR bracketed shots with a canvas texture overlay. Yes, the birds are real (no bird brushes used) but look dark due to the added texture and blending mode. There are tons of birds flying over this creepy place and nesting in the building. The second image in the series above is a shot of the decayed basketball court in the rear. And the third image above is a peek into the basement, where the Screaming UrbEx Man can be seen on the walls. Happy Halloween!
Update February 10, 2015: This gem of an abandoned building, still standing, is currently completely fenced off, making it difficult to photograph without trespassing. I was on location a couple months ago to shoot at night. The building was, in fact, not sold to be converted into a private home. Transitions Mental Health is currently raising funds to convert the facility into housing for some of their clientele, which has created a lot of controversy and opposition in the surrounding affluent neighborhood. It will take a ton of money for the environmental cleanup alone. The question remains whether the exorbitant cost is worth housing a small number of transients with mental challenges.
Please see my new updated post Night Over the Abandoned Sunny Acres Detention Facility, San Luis Obispo, California.
A few summers ago, I took an excursion to one of my favorite locations in California: the spectacular Eastern Sierras. Driving along Highway 395 in any direction leads to a plethora of photographic opportunities, including famous locations such as Death Valley, the Alabama Hills, Manzanar, the Owens Valley near Bishop, the Bristlecone Pine Forest, Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake, and the old ghost mining town of Bodie, to name just a few. Just south of Bishop lies the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, which is operated by Caltech, the academic home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a wonderful place to photograph in the evening hours.
The cloud formations that evening were incredible, due in part to the massive wildfires that were burning in Santa Barbara that summer. The sunset was just gorgeous. There are many of these radio dishes scattered around the observatory, which make for fantastic photographs, especially at night. These images were taken just after sunset and are bracketed HDR sequences. They were processed in Photomatix 4, Lightroom 3, Photoshop CS5, and with onOne’s PhotoTools 2.6.