The Doors of Perception Had to Close


For some of us from New Westminster, Hollywood Hospital holds a place in living memory: the building began as a private mansion in 1892 and was sold and repurposed as a hospital shortly after World War I. Fortunately, the landscaped gardens, wrap-around porch, elaborate balcony and classic Victorian tower were retained. Beginning in 1957, experimental work in psychedelic therapy was conducted in the top of that tower, which came to be known as the Acid Room. Authors Jesse Donaldson and Erika Dyck, in The Acid Room: The Psychedelic Trials and Tribulations of Hollywood Hospital (Anvil Press), have provided a detailed history of the former hospital’s contributions to the field. Included are some profiles of patients who experienced successful outcomes from this treatment method, including an account of the local weightlifting champion and cult figure, Doug Hepburn: “Having heard about the experimental therapy being conducted inside its walls, Hepburn was intrigued by the promise that it could transform an individual’s self-image, reportedly accomplishing in an afternoon what traditional therapy couldn’t in years.” After a decade of seemingly hopeless alcoholism, Doug Hepburn managed a bodybuilding comeback that gained him almost legendary status. Hollywood Hospital closed in July 1975, due to lack of funding (and, more generally, lack of support), although its psychedelic therapy program had ceased by around 1968. Within weeks of the shutdown, a mysterious fire broke out and the building was finally demolished. The site is now a massive grey mall known as Westminster Centre. However, if you go around to the back, you’ll see a group of Douglas firs and a couple of maple trees that look as though they’re from the original landscape of Hollywood Hospital. That is pretty much all that remains, except the hope that positive, alternative treatments for mental health issues are beginning to resurface.

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Jill Mandrake writes strange but true stories and leads Sister DJ’s Radio Band, featuring rhythm and blues covers, post-vaudeville original tunes and occasional comedy bits.


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