Home Birth: Inside a Chino Hills “Maternity Hotel”

Once a safe haven for expectant Chinese women hoping to give birth in Los Angeles, this private residence was suddenly abandoned by its owners in December 2012. Photographer Damon Casarez captured what was left behind—from baby pictures to mementos from home

In December 2012, one year before writer Fiona Ng was putting the final touches on “The Born Legacy,” her article in the January issue of Los Angeles magazine (on newsstands now) about maternity tourism—the trend of foreign women giving birth in the United States to establish citizenship for their children—a news story broke in Chino Hills. Neighbors had discovered that a local mansion was being used as a maternity hotel for expectant Chinese women who wanted to deliver their babies in Los Angeles. City officials filed a restraining order against the home’s owners, and as a result the operation was shut down.

A week after hearing the reports, photographer Damon Casarez drove to Chino Hills to see the property, which had become the site of local protests. What he found and photographed was an abandoned 17-bedroom home littered with boxes of diapers, medical pamphlets, pictures of newborns, baby toys, and parenting magazines. There were bare mattresses in every room, TVs attached to the walls, and a karaoke machine in the kitchen.

“After a few hours of exploring, I made my way out, leaving everything as I had found it and closing up behind me,” he wrote in a blog post about the experience at Los Angeles, I’m Yours. “As I walked out the front of the house, I was exposed to the breathtaking view of the snow-covered San Bernardino Mountains. I imagined the women taking walks together along the green hills at sunset, as their neighbors described them doing. I left…wondering what happened to the mothers that once stayed here hoping to give birth to an American citizen.”

RELATED: Read “The Born Legacy” in the January 2014 issue of Los Angeles magazine on newsstands now