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Haunting Stories of SLO County: Sunny Acres juvenile hall

Haunting Stories of SLO County: Sunny Acres juvenile hall

I heard about this place when I moved to SLO. It was a creepy story for some old building people would tell stories about. After living here for about a year and word of the building being torn down or revamped I had to hike up and take a look for myself. Here are some of my photos of this creepy building and some info I found about its history!

A former juvenile hall, known for cramming too many children into its dungeon-like cells, it was shut down in 1974. Now screams have been heard from inside along with the sounds of children laughing, doors being slammed, footsteps, etc. It is called “Hell’s Acres”.

located to the left of San Luis Obispo County’s Probation Department, surrounded by empty fields, lies Sunny Acres or known locally as Hells Acres. Off of Johnson, Sunny Acres opened on April 16th, 1931 as a home for orphans and other children who were wards of the government. Children waiting for transfer to foster homes or in trouble with the law were also sent there. It eventually became a juvenile hall and a youth detention facility.

As time went on, the facility grew worse and obtained a poor reputation. Some judges in the area would only send children there if there was absolutely no other alternative. Steel cells were installed for the truly problematic children. And, in 1959, seven of the children confined within actually performed an escape attempt, taking the woman on duty to watch them hostage, tying her up, and stealing her car. They were captured before they were able to escape into Mexico. After this security was increased. Conditions afterward grew so bad that when a local paper did an article on the facility, they used models in the pictures instead of actual inmates. Funding was low, resources lacking, equipment old and dated, and rumor has it that the facility was overcrowded. What had started out as a facility to house poor orphans and children needing new homes had become a jail complete with steel dungeon-like cells holding only the worst children with nowhere else to go.

New facilities eventually opened in 1974 and Sunny Acres officially finally closed. It has sat vacant and abandoned ever since. Since then it has been the target of vandals, graffiti artists, trespassers and worse. During the eighties, police reported that they often ended up Sunny Acres twice a week, to stop local youth from drinking and doing drugs within the structure. Police even reported finding an altar that had been used to burn animals. A fire even broke out in the abandoned structure on November 24th, 1989. Supposedly satanic drawings were discovered on the walls as were candles.

No Trespassing
And, of course, when a structure with such an interesting history is left abandoned for so long, it eventually gets a history of being haunted. Not surprisingly there are the stories of hearing phantom children laughing (and even more creepy, children whispering), echoing footsteps where no one is walking, piercing screams, doors slamming suddenly on their own (which is a feat considering many are made of steel), and other ghostly activity. A crying baby has also been heard, despite the structure having only supposed to have housed children ages 10 to 17. Another lost boy pounds on the door to his cell trying to get out. There have been multiple reports of a flickering candle or some other light source being seen in one of the upstairs windows.

Today the asbestos filled structure is completely surrounded by a fence and has multiple “No Trespassing” signs and marks. The closest place to park is the Probation Department a field away. Sunny (or Hells) Acres is in clear view of it. Fields surround the front and back of the structure too, as if, the outside world is afraid to encroach upon the structure. I even ran across a deer trapped in the fenced in grounds behind the building, trying to locate the one way out. The building was renamed in late 2014 to Bishop Street Studios. It is supposed to one day be fixed up and renovated into housing for people with mental illness, which if it’s haunting seems scarily fitting. Despite there currently being plans to renovate as of late 2016, nothing has happened.

Somehow it feels like the building continues to find ways to avoid being destroyed or fixed up.