Part of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ hospital torn down

The roof of the Oregon State Hospital's historic J building in Salem, Oregon was removed Monday, April 6, 2009

The roof of the Oregon State Hospital's historic J building in Salem, Oregon was removed Monday, April 6, 2009

From AP / April 6 2009

Part of ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ hospital torn down

The roof of the Oregon State Hospital’s historic J building in Salem, Oregon is removed Monday, April 6, 2009.

Workers on Monday began tearing down part of the Oregon State Hospital building where Jack Nicholson played a rebellious patient in the 1975 film classic “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Part of the 125-year-old building will be preserved, though, and it will include a mental health museum to exhibit props from the film, including a “hydrotherapy” device that one character throws through a window to make his escape.

“It’s the thing that many people remember about the movie,” said hospital spokeswoman Patricia Feeny.

The movie based on Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel was fictional, but it has become closely associated over the years with real-life problems at Oregon’s crumbling, overcrowded psychiatric facility.

On Monday, workers operating a trackhoe with a 95-foot arm began tearing off the roof of the hospital’s J Building, a demolition project that will make way for a new 620-bed hospital complex that’s to be finished by 2011.

The J Building’s south wing is where much of the filming was done on “Cuckoo’s Nest,” the Oscar-winning story of Randle P. McMurphy, played by Nicholson, locking horns with the authoritarian Nurse Ratched.

The demolition project means there will be little remaining of the places where most of the filming was done.

However, part of the J Building will be preserved, and there are plans to put a museum of mental health in it – with a section devoted to the filming of “Cuckoo’s Nest.”

The main artifact in that section will be the “hydrotherapy” device, a prop that resembled a large bathroom sink with various faucets and spigots. Feeny said the producers donated it to the hospital, where it has been on display outside the hospital superintendent’s office.

In the movie’s climax, a silent Chief Bromden becomes enraged after hospital officials perform a brain-cutting lobotomy on Nicholson’s character. He then lifts the machine over his head and throws it through a screened window, clearing the way for his escape.

Other props from the movie also will be included in the museum display, including a bathtub used by Danny DeVito’s character and a large broom Chief Bromden pushes throughout the film.

Hospital superintendent Roy Orr said mental health advocates are divided on whether “Cuckoo’s Nest” helped promote the cause of the mentally ill or was an overly sensationalized depiction of brutality in state mental institutions.

Orr said he supports devoting part of the museum to the movie, through.

“I guess I just view it as a part of our past; and now it’s time to move on,” he said.

One of Oregon’s leading advocates for the mentally ill, Bob Joondeph of Disability Rights Oregon, was at the state hospital Monday to observe the beginning of demolition.

Joondeph said the movie was a positive thing in that it helped humanize patients in psychiatric institutions.

“One of the things we run up against is that people are often afraid of those with mental illness,” he said. “Jack Nicholson’s character recognized the patients as individuals with their own personalities.”