Film, Kodak Portra, LACUSC, Rolleiflex

Exploring LAC+USC Medical Center

For years I’ve seen the LAC+USC Medical Center in the distance when going into Los Angeles. It’s this huge almost gothic looking fortress in the distance. I think of The House on Haunted Hill when I look at it.

The hospital opened in 1923. Marilyn Monroe was born there and it served as the exterior hospital shots for the soap opera, General Hospital. 

After the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, the building codes were updated and a new modern hospital building was needed. The new medical center was opened next door and in 2008 the last patients were transferred from the old building. Today, only the ground floor is really used.

When I got the opportunity to take a tour with a friend and shoot inside the original hospital, I jumped! I could have shot for days in there, but we only had a couple hours so I tried to see as much as possible. My only regret, the morgue doors were locked.

I took my Rolleiflex and shot my standard Kodak Portra. The light was so beautiful coming through the dirty windows. Some of the lights still worked but a lot of the area was natural ambient light only. On one of the floors I found the radiology department and was able to go into the old darkroom and have a poke around. Still lots of Kodak radiographic film holders laying around!

There’s a general unkept, decaying look of the place as you walk around. Years with little upkeep and people breaking in and ransacking the place show. It’s not really dirty, there’s just a lot of stuff everywhere. I have to say, being a total chicken for scary movies and all things supernatural, it was a little unnerving exploring. I’d find myself in random areas having gone through 3 different doors looking around and realizing there’s no one around me and someone probably died in that room at some point in its previous 80 years! I tried to concentrate on the camera!

Another friend that came with me had done her US Navy Corpsman trauma training there and we were able to find the floor she worked on with the US Navy signs still on the walls. It was fun hearing her reminisce about being there.

I think the highlight of the day was going into the surgical theatre. It’s like you see in the movies, hospital bed in the center with rows of chairs going up high all around so students could watch procedures being performed. The huge windows lit the whole room. Someone had snuck in and set off fire extinguishers recently so a lot of the area was covered in fine undisturbed powder.

Someday, I’d love to return with my 4×5 to do some proper architectural shots inside with unlimited time. I can dream.

Special thanks to my friend for making it happen! It was so amazing.

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