Folklore says the abandoned brick building in San Luis Obispo known as Sunny Acres — or Hells Acres, according to website weirdcalifornia.com — is a creepy, former insane asylum for women with steel cages that’s haunted with ghosts of children and “negative vibes.”
Backpackerverse.com claims it’s an abandoned mental hospital, “home to Black Bonnet, a vicious nurse.” It’s also supposed to be a psychic vortex that burned due to spontaneous combustion a couple of decades ago. (There was a fire there in 1989.)
In truth, however, Sunny Acres was built in 1931 as an orphanage and later became a county juvenile detention center before closing in the mid-1970s. It’s scheduled to reopen in 2019 after renovations to provide affordable housing for adults who receive mental health services.
When the building was in use decades ago, irate mothers are reported to have driven their children to the building on the hill overlooking Johnson Street, threatening to leave them there when they were bad, according to Michael Kaplan, of Transitions-Mental Health Association. The organization is restoring the building as part of a project called Bishop Street Studios.
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Now, mostly teenagers sneak inside to creep around with whatever ghosts are there and paint what’s left of the deteriorating walls with graphic and sometimes colorful graffiti.
A couple of German women traveled to the site on their tour of California’s top haunted buildings, according to Jill Bolster-White, director of Transitions-Mental Health Association. And a ghost-hunting show once inquired about filming there, she said.
A Facebook page for “Sunny Acres Insane Asylum” offers accounts of visitors’ activities: A group of “alley cats” that admitted trying to break in and multiple others who report scary experiences and ghost sightings.
Those who have been inside know the real dangers lurking behind the chain-link fence.
Workers who enter are required to wear respirators. Chunks of floor, wall and ceiling are missing. What’s left between peeling flakes of paint is covered with graffiti. Gnarled metal bars dangle across hallways. Old cells are lit by rays of sunlight that pierce the holes of the boards covering the glassless windows.
In one second-floor cell, a single vine has pierced the grout in the exterior brick wall. Its few green leaves gently wave from a breeze blowing through the walls — or is it the wind?