Agnews Developmental Center

Agnews Developmental Center is a psychiatric and medical care facility, now located in San Jose, California.

In 1885, the center, originally known as "The Great Asylum for the Insane", was established as a facility for the care of the mentally ill. The main structure, a red brick edifice, was located on land near Agnew's Village, which later became part of Santa Clara.

During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake the center became infamous as the site of the Santa Clara Valley's greatest loss of life resulting from the quake. The Daily Palo Alto reported: "The position of the people in Agnews is critical; a number of insane persons having escaped from the demolished asylum, are running at random about the country." 117 patients and staff were killed and buried in mass graves on the site. The main building and some others were irreparably damaged.

Following this disaster, Agnews was rebuilt in the Mediterranean Revival architecture styles of Mission Revival—Spanish Colonial Revival, in a layout resembling a college campus of two-story buildings. It re-opened circa 1911 as Agnews State Mental Hospital. The facility was a small self-contained town, including a multitude of construction trade "shops", a farm which raised pigs and vegetable crops, a steam generating power plant for heating the buildings by steam, and even a fire department.

At the time, it boasted the largest population in the South San Francisco Bay area, and was served by its own train station which stood at the west end of Palm Drive across Lafayette Street; the station building remained until vandalism and fire precipitated its demolition in the 1990s.

In 1926, Agnews was expanded to include a second campus about 2 miles (3 km) to the east in San Jose.

Individuals with developmental disabilities were first admitted to a special rehabilitation program in 1965. Programs for the mentally ill were discontinued in 1972. Since then, the center has been used exclusively for the care and treatment of persons with developmental disabilities.

The original west campus was closed in 1998 as part of a plan to reduce and eventually close the center.

Re-purposing of the land

When the west campus closed, the use of the land was the subject of local controversy. In April 1997, it was announced the state would sell an 82.5-acre (33.4 ha) parcel of the campus to Sun Microsystems for use as its corporate headquarters and R&D campus. Some objected to the arranged sale of this prime public land to a profitable corporation at the peak of a local economic and real-estate boom, while others valued the presence of a prominent high-tech employer. Also at issue was the preservation of and public access to historic Agnews Developmental Center buildings. Sun arranged the restoration of four of the historic buildings (the auditorium, the clock tower, the superintendent's villa, and the administration building) and keeps some of the facilities available for public use. An outdoor exhibit open to the public displays information and photographs regarding the center and its history.

In addition to the Sun campus, the Rivermark master planned community was allocated 152 acres (62 ha) for a variety of residential, retail, public school, and open space uses.

The Agnews site was added to the National Register of Historic Places (under the name "Agnews Insane Asylum") on August 13, 1997.

Sun was acquired by Oracle Corporation in 2010; the campus continues to be used as an Oracle R&D facility and conference center.

In popular media

The punk rock band Green Day recorded the music video for their 1994 song "Basket Case" at Agnews.

Building Activity

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