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Historian Reveals Story Behind Agnews Developmental Center

Historian Reveals Story Behind Agnews Developmental Center

“Early in the morning on April 18, 1906, all of the hospital’s buildings were rendered useless when the Great Earthquake struck … The earth opened and closed and the land on the eastern side shifted 16 feet to the north,” says Lorie Garcia, honorary city historian and author, at a July 30 talk at the Central Park Library. “The earthquake lasted 47 seconds…At the southern end of the San Francisco Bay Area, the most tragic scene resulting from the earthquake was at Agnew State Hospital … In the main building, the tower collapsed and fell all four floors between crumbling walls and crashed into the basement. All the other buildings were severely damaged.”

According to Garcia, 118 people died from the collapse. Such historical details can be found in Garcia’s book, “Agnews: Asylum, Hospital, Developmental Center 1885-1996.”

“My book is about the history of Agnews, the state hospital here in Santa Clara,” Garcia says. “Work started on it in 1886. It underwent several names. The first name was the California Hospital for the Chronic Insane. In 1889, the name was changed to the State Asylum at Agnews. Agnews State Hospital is what it later became. It was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake under the leadership of Dr. Leonard Stocking, the hospital superintendent, who believed that mental hospitals should be a facility where you treated patients who could be released back to society.”

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According to Garcia, at one time, the hospital held up to 2,000 people and had 41 buildings, including farmlands and fields for growing food. The hospital started out with 323–½ acres spanning from what is now known as Montague Expressway, Lick Mill Boulevard and Lafayette Street to the Guadalupe River. Later, the purchase of 400 additional acres helped expand the hospital to the San Jose side of the Guadalupe River.

Garcia discusses how philosophies and laws related to mental illness and developmental disabilities affected the hospital.

Historian Reveals Story Behind Agnews Developmental Center

“In 1966, the first program for people with developmental disabilities was established at the hospital so now you’re looking at changing the hospital for the mentally ill into a hospital for the developmentally disabled,” she says. “In 1967, the Lanterman-Petris Short Act of California mandated the transfer of most mentally ill patients from state hospitals to community programs. To comply with this act, the hospital was reorganized. Now you have a decrease in what is classified as mentally ill, and the mentally retarded population increases. In 1971, we have the Lanterman Act. Because of this act, state hospitals in California were closed and the whole state system for mentally ill patients got completely restructured. In June 1972, the last mentally ill patient left Agnews. Now, you have just the developmentally disabled there. By 1978, they have 975 developmentally disabled people living at Agnews. It was still a state hospital but with a new function. In 1985, it was renamed the Agnews Developmental Center. So the buildings still existed but its use has changed. You have a completely different clientele.”

Garcia explains that the number of people with developmental disabilities at the hospital continued to shrink, as the state began transitioning the institutionalized into home care settings. By 1995, activity had gravitated to the other side of the Guadalupe River where the hospital still exists. In 1996, the State of California put up the 295-acre west campus for sale, with the area divided into two parcels.

“When all the dust settled down, Sun Microsystems bought the smaller parcel, which was 82–½ acres, for the development of their headquarter campus,” Garcia says. “The other parcel was bought by a company called Rivermark Partners. This area was developed into the Rivermark neighborhood.”

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3 Comments
  1. Dave Salle 5 months ago
    Reply

    I’d like to buy a copy of Lorie Garcia’s book on Agnews, but I can’t find it for sale anywhere. Any advice would be appreciated!

    Thanks,
    Dave Salle
    408-425-5484

  2. Dawn Repp McCutcheon 2 weeks ago
    Reply

    I also would like a copy of this book. Could you help me find a copy Thank you

    Dawn
    530-675-2093

  3. Alexies Polecat 1 week ago
    Reply

    Information on where to purchase the book? My uncle was there. I do remember visiting him in the mid 90’s there.

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