by Jim Bulls
Kings View Hospital opened its doors on February 11, 1951. Located on 43 acres of farmland along the banks of the Kings River near Reedley, this was the second of three hospitals built by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Arthur Jost was appointed as administrator.
Originally created in 1920, the MCC began operating as a relief agency and by the 1940s, the field of Civilian Public Service operations began. This included the field of mental health. According to the online Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia (GAME), the idea for an inpatient mental health facility grew out of the experiences of Mennonite young people who worked in mental hospitals during World War II. In addition to Kings View, MCC built Brook Lane Farm near Hagerstown, MD, and Prairie View Hospital at Newton, KS. The hospitals accepted patients with all types of mental illnesses.
The original 8500 sq. ft. hospital building is believed to be the first building west of the Mississippi River to use “tilt up” construction. The foundation and floors were framed and surrounded by the forms for the walls, and the cement for all was poured at one time. After the cement was cured, the walls were tilted up and into place.
There was some controversy over the location of the hospital by neighbors and some townsfolk who were unhappy about having a mental hospital nearby. They wanted to halt construction, and went about with petitions until they gathered enough signatures to have a cease and desist order served. However construction on the buildings continued. A group of the concerned petition signers accompanied the county sheriff to the building site in order to see justice served. There, they were met by Arthur Jost, and when questioned as to why Jost was defying the court order, he asked if the order was from Fresno County. The sheriff replied that it was, and Jost simply pointed to the county line marker a few hundred feet away, that clearly indicated that the construction was well within Tulare County boundaries and not those of Fresno County. Construction continued and Kings View Hospital opened for business.
In addition to the main building, an 1800 sq. ft. activity building was erected. By 1955 there were three psychiatrists, one psychiatric social worker, one psychologist and four nurses with a support staff of 30 and many volunteers from the local community. Again, according to GAME, services included full psychiatric care, medical workups in conjunction with local general medical facilities, outpatient care, and foster home care. A number of patients were placed in foster homes in the community. The ultimate program was to include facilities for 100 patients.
In November 1950, when the flooding washed out the Olson Avenue bridge, half of it ended up in the channel between the east bank of the river and the island belonging to Kings View Hospital. With a little ingenuity, some elementary geometry and a bulldozer, the broken bridge ended up forming the first bridge over to the island and opening up additional recreation space.
Other than being a part of the annual Christmas caroling group from the First United Methodist Church, my introduction to Kings View Hospital was through Diana. She was the secretary for the Activity Therapy Department. In fact, when we were married, the chaplain at Kings View Hospital, Rev. Ron Evans, officiated. A personal note here, we got married in the touchy-feely 1970s—lots of therapeutic hugs. After observing Chaplain Ron hugging several ladies, my father pulled me aside and asked “Are you sure he is an ordained minister?”
I became acquainted with Herman Dueck, director of plant and grounds at Kings View, through Diana and many of the staff socials. When a building maintenance job was advertised, I felt it was a good job opportunity for me to apply for. I was hired and started working in building maintenance along with Herman, Bob Jones and Lee Heinrichs. I found out later that my interview was the only one that Herman sat in on.
There are two types of employees at Kings View. Those who chart on patients, such as doctors, therapists, nurses and aides, and those who don’t like office personnel, dietary, grounds, housekeeping and maintenance. Sometimes the people who are in contact with patients the most, have the least knowledge of their illnesses. Since there are no fences, you can easily be lured into thinking you are working at a country club until something happens that reminds you this is a hospital and we do have failures that shock you back into reality. As a “no-charter” I was friendly to all and treated everyone the same and with respect.
In plant maintenance we were proficient in all aspects of maintenance from H-VAC, plumbing, electrical, fire alarm, emergency generating system, appliance repair, automotive maintenance, carpentry, and lock smithing. Most importantly, we learned to clean up after ourselves. You’ll find out why later.
One of the perks of the job was the after lunch games of eight ball in the multi-purpose room. I was busy writing my first book, Jim’s Jokes and Famous Quotes, and I tried out a lot of my materials—sometimes in questionable taste—on the rest of the crew. Herman would laugh with the best of them and he never said Jim you shouldn’t say that. However, sometime in the near future Herman would be talking about something not even remotely related to my joke, but something that made me reflect on what I had said and made me reconsider saying it again. Herman’s wit was guided by the Lord, and consequently I forgot so many jokes, that my book dropped off into oblivion.
Another perk was our department’s annual pilgrimage to the Tulare County Ag Expo. Herman was in hopes of purchasing a new emergency generator for the hospital. The current generator was a WWII Army surplus item, that was pretty well maxed out as far as upgrades went. After checking out the various options at the expo, Herman decided that Caterpillar was the way to go. The deal was made and when we returned to work, we started preparations for the new equipment. The footings were steel reinforced concrete and I built a 6 in channel iron skid for the generator frame to rest on. When it arrived, we rolled it into place, bolted it down and plumbed in the wiring. The final task was building guards around the rotating parts in order to be in compliance with OSHA guidelines.
In my 16 years or so as a psychiatric hospital maintenance man, I made the acquaintance of many patients. I have a lot of memories, good and bad, to share.
Popper loved to set off fire alarms. Admitted to the hospital while I was out on sick leave with the flu, this patient would activate the fire alarm around 7:00 in the every evening. When I returned to work (maybe a day or two early because I still felt lousy), the day shift gave me a heads up on what to expect. I collected my tools, a new alarm sensor and the ladder in preparation. Sure enough, the Popper set off the alarm near the expected time. I headed over to the ward, while the staff and patients headed outside into the cold and foggy night. I made my rounds in search of a fire, and finding none, replaced the sensor, reset the alarm and gave the all clear for everyone to return inside. I asked the charge nurse to come with me to the Popper’s room. In my best drill sergeant voice, I said that if I had to stand outside in the wet and cold because of a false alarm, me and couple of other guys would haul you in for a G.I. shower (a scrub down with a bar of soap inside an Army issue wool sock), while everyone else short-sheeted your bed. It’s time for you to grow up and take responsibility for your actions, and then I walked out.
The next day, after some reflection on my part, I was a little apprehensive about going back to work. I had probably over-stepped the boundaries and interfered with therapeutic protocol, but no one said a thing about it. That evening, I gathered my tools so I would be ready for the inevitable. Around 7:00, a knock came on the office door. It was the Popper and the charge nurse; my tools and the new fire alarm sensor were sitting in plain sight on the desk. Popper came to apologize and I apologized too. I had probably been heavy-handed due to residual flu effects.
After that, Popper would always greet me out on the grounds or in the dining hall and I never had to change another sensor that Popper was responsible for setting off. Several months later, I got a call from the nurse’s station on Central Ward. Popper wanted to say goodbye before discharge the next day and to thank me for the “advice” about taking responsibility. I was so moved by this memory that I eventually named one of my cats after this patient.
Cleaning up after a maintenance job is extremely important in a psychiatric setting, and you had to be particularly careful when cleaning up broken windows. I was diligently working at doing just that when I realized that Cutter was carefully watching me from a short distance away. Cutter stated “Jim, you do good work.” I replied that the both of us made a good team. Puzzled, Cutter asked why that was. I said “You are in charge of quality control. I would be devastated if I left a piece of glass big enough for someone to cut themselves with.” Cutter thought about it for a minute, then smiled and walked away, saying “See Ya.”
Just like Popper, Breaker’s routine was to break a window pane nearly every day until there was only a 12×12 section left. Now the view from the room looked out over the vineyard, where you could see fox and coyotes in the evening and hawks in the early morning. When all the glass was cleaned up and I was finishing up inserting the window board, Breaker was allowed back in the room. I commented that it might not be a good idea to break the final section of the window. When asked why, I said check out the entertainment nature provides every day just outside your room. I didn’t have to board up what was left of the window and eventually glass was reinstalled in the entire window.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Kings Views’ services were expanded to include drug and alcohol treatment program in several communities throughout the central valley. The corporate offices were located on the north end of the property, and later a day treatment facility was built. An activity therapy building was added to the grounds, with the former space being used for an on grounds classroom with teachers provided by Kings Canyon Unified. A few years later, a large addition with two new patient wards, offices, and meeting rooms was built. The vision for housing 100 patients had been met, and then some.
Sadly, due to changes in insurance coverage for mental health and some administrative issues, Kings View Hospital was forced to close. Kings View Corporation is still a viable organization providing mental health services of varying kinds in ten counties.
Today, the existing hospital buildings are being leased by Teen Challenge, a Christian based drug rehab program. The organization has been very successful in northern and southern California. This is believed to be their first venture into the San Joaquin Valley.
There is also a new role for the former hospital grounds. Thanks to current property owner Michael Jackson, Immanuel Schools has the opportunity to turn the grounds into a sports complex. It will feature state of the art tennis courts, baseball and softball playing fields, an all weather track and football field, with the possibility of a future stadium.
I’d like to dedicate this article to the memory of Herman Dueck, 16 April 1932 to 28 October 1982. I think he would be proud of what has risen out of the old Kings View Hospital.
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.