By Christian Arredondo and Ruth Olivares

More than 90 years ago, many people who were described as “feeble minded” were detained in the Pacific Colony facility, now Cal Poly Pomona’s Lanterman Developmental Center. 

The treatment of mental health has come a long way. 

Now, mental health is spoken about openly on our campus, which is a topic that would have been avoided at all costs years back. 

The Pacific Colony facility, located at 3530 Pomona Blvd., opened its doors in 1927, and it contained nearly 2,000 individuals who were deemed unfit to thrive — and even a threat to society.

Although individuals in the Pacific Colony facility were treated as inmates, they lived in a small village of their own at Pacific Colony which included many recreational activities. 

According to California’s Department of Developmental Services, the site included a playground, a ballpark, a carousel and a track, as well as work sites.  

Although the site offered much for residents, it lacked space and needed improved practices. 

Many have questioned the practices that took place at the facility. Some questions include a history of abuse and malpractice toward patients. This could be partly due to the overcrowding of residents in the facility. 

Student access to Campus South, previously the Lanterman Developmental Center, is restricted as the site is rented for filming purposes. (Ruth Olivares / The Poly Post)

Cesar Licega, a fourth-year psychology student, said he is aware of the dangerous practices that took place in early mental institutions.  

“Asylums, especially back then, were notorious for malpractices and unethical work,” Licega said. “Unfortunately, these things happened often and were common. But in today’s time, there are rules that must be followed to prevent malpractices.”

The Pacific Colony was only large enough to comfortably fit 1,500 patients but the facility squeezed in over 1,900 individuals at the time, according to the state of California’s Department of Developmental Services.

Today, these practices are uncommon due to improved regulations. 

Riley Scheetz, a third-year philosophy student, said she believes incompetence and not following the law led to the abuse of patients. 

“An asylum where patients are abused is completely wrong,” Scheetz said. “But it must be due to a systematic failure from the law that allowed these practices to continue. Law enforcement [was] blindsided to what was going on inside that allowed these acts to continue.”

Pacific Colony was originally for the mentally unfit, but over the decades, around 14,000 residents inhabited the facilities, but the complex did not serve as a mental institution at this point.

A shift took place in Pacific Colony after World War II ended and more funds were given to the site, which was renamed the Pacific State Hospital in 1953. 

Those who needed mental care were no longer “inmates” locked away from society. 

They were considered patients receiving care. 

Licega said it is important that those in need receive specialized care, whether that care is offered in or outside of facilities.

“Yes, it is common for individuals that need special care to be placed in institutions. [As a] matter of fact, it’s better for them since they can get the help they need,” Liceaga said. “Some individuals don’t always need to go to facilities. Disorders such as schizophrenia, although not curable, can be controlled through medication so individuals can live in a society.”

The shift in care in 1953 is evident, as care was catered toward helping residents succeed outside of the facility through various care practices and integrating teams of psychologists, social workers and parents to aid residents.

Another milestone was reached in 1979 in the care for mental health when Frank D. Lanterman fought for the rights of patients, which brought forth the Lanterman Act.

California’s Department of Developmental Services noted that under the Lanterman Act, individuals were guaranteed lifelong care. 

 In his honor, Pacific State Hospital was renamed the Frank D. Lanterman State Hospital and Developmental Center that same year.

However, the name change didn’t last long during the rapid progression of mental health care. 

In the 1980s, the name was changed once again to simply the Lanterman Developmental Center, as residents were considered people with specials needs and not hospital patients. 

After the Lanterman Developmental Center could no longer remain in service in 2015, the property was handed to CPP that same year with the requirement that the university historically preserves some of the site. This is still in the works, as CPP plans to redevelop the site. 

Last year, President Coley put together the Lanterman Advisory Committee to aid in redeveloping the Lanterman site. 

The committee has even started meeting with developers Five Point Holdings, LLC, who will pay for the redevelopment costs.

University administration and members of the committee did not respond in time for comment. 

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