Scary Dairy – Camarillo, California - Atlas Obscura
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Camarillo, California

Scary Dairy

Graffiti-covered ruins that were once part of a farm owned by a mental hospital. 

There is something inherently spooky about abandoned farm buildings. Remote, hulking, and isolated, their weathered remains have the feeling of a drifting ghost ship or a deserted space station, making one wonder, “What happened here?” And if those buildings were on a farm that was worked by patients of an early-20th-century mental hospital? That might sound like a deleted subplot from the second season of American Horror Story, but it’s actually the real backstory of what’s come to be known as the “Scary Dairy.”

The land surrounding the Scary Dairy was originally part of the Camarillo State Mental Hospital, established in Ventura County, California in 1932. The hospital was at the forefront of treating conditions previously considered untreatable, and developed novel therapeutic practices (behavioral as well as pharmaceutical) to help foster greater freedom and independence in patients previously confined to institutions.

As part of this approach, a dairy was built near the hospital where patients could grow vegetables and work with animals as part of their therapy (it is unclear whether any of the animals were raised for meat or if it was strictly a dairy farm, but one imagines that slaughtering the animals probably would have undermined the therapeutic purpose of the facility). The fruits of their labors went to feed the hospital community and provide the hospital with an additional source of income (although, again, it is unclear whether these agricultural activities were really taking place on a commercial scale).

In the 1960s, the hospital disbanded the dairy and left the buildings to deteriorate. In 1997, the hospital itself closed its door and stood abandoned until 2002, when it was converted into a university, of all things. The newly-established California State University, Channel Islands renovated and occupied the hospital facilities and, in 2009, purchased the nearby 367-acre parcel of land which contained the decrepit dairy.

Now known as CSU Channel Islands University Park, the land is open to the public daily from sunrise to sunset. The Scary Dairy still stands, although behind fences and “No Trespassing” signs for safety as well as preservation reasons. However, that obviously hasn’t stopped the many graffiti artists who have richly decorated the ruined agricultural buildings (and perhaps more nefarious activities, as suggested by Wikipedia’s cryptic warnings about frequent police patrols on the lookout for “large groups of youth”). And the fences are close enough for a casual visitor to get a good look and speculate about what it would have been like to work on a farm in a mental hospital.

Know Before You Go

From CA101 South, get off on S Lewis Rd, follow to Camarillo St and turn left; take Camarillo St till you cross a bridge, then turn left onto Old Dairy Rd and immediately bear right onto Federal Youth Division; Federal Youth Division will take you right to Scary Dairy