By Robin GOLDSWORTHY
It has stood for 90 years as a testament to the dedication of a woman who came to the Crescenta Valley to provide a sanctuary for women suffering from mental illness. Today, Rockhaven Sanitarium on Honolulu Avenue stands closed but not forgotten, with docents from the Friends of Rockhaven ready to provide insight into a history that began with the vision of nurse Agnes Richards.
Richards came to the valley after World War I. She worked at Los Angeles County Hospital and, in response to the deplorable conditions she found there in the treatment of women, she founded Rockhaven Sanitarium in 1923.
Over the years, Rockhaven grew in popularity and eventually its 3.3-acre campus housed 14 buildings including a hospital.
According to Friends of Rockhaven docent Joanna Linkchorst, the sanitarium was especially attractive to those who were once in the limelight of the entertainment world.
“There were Ziegfeld girls here,” said Linkchorst during a tour of the property on Saturday. “Actress Billie Burke [Glinda the Good Witch from the “Wizard of Oz”], actress Francis Farmer, and Marilyn Monroe’s mother [Gladys Baker] … all stayed at Rockhaven at one time or another.”
Rockhaven remained a sanctuary for women until 2001 when Richards’ heirs sold the property to the Ararat Company. In 2008, the City of Glendale purchased it.
Friends of Rockhaven is an off-shoot of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and was formed in April. Tours of the property are not open to the public just yet, but groups can apply to tour the grounds. For example, Crescenta Valley High School’s Prom Plus is including Rockhaven on its annual holiday tour of homes on Dec. 14.
Linkchorst is looking forward to the day when the wrought iron gates are open to everyone.
“I want to share the impact of the sanitariums in CV history and the impact of Agnes Richards and [Richards’ granddaughter] Pat Traviss and [groundskeeper] Ivan Cole had on the lives of these women and their families,” Linkchorst said.
Though the future of Rockhaven is uncertain, a tour of the property reveals a past that is architecturally rich. Malibu tiles are installed on stairs leading into the Little Hospital and ornate wrought iron railings created by Huntington Iron Works in La Cañada can be found on many of the buildings. Despite being neglected, the grounds offer a glimpse into what once was: rose bushes, trellises and courtyards that were soothing and peaceful.
Since the purchase by the city, speculation has swirled regarding what the future holds for the property. Some have called it a “white elephant,” but Linkchorst feels Rockhaven still has much to offer.
“We want a community center. We want a park and meeting place and catering availability and art classes and dance classes and car shows and art shows and paint-outs and weddings and concerts and movies and Wi-Fi,” she said.
Off the table – at least at this point – is a library. Although disappointed – Linkchorst said she would have loved a library to supply books for people to read on a Boy Scout Eagle project bench under the oaks – she is unfazed by the city’s decision. She and other Friends met with city officials to discuss future possibilities for the Rockhaven property.
“I’m hoping they realize how much we want this perfectly set up open area with its historic buildings and gorgeous California oaks,” Linkchorst said. “I look forward to introducing people to how beautiful and alive and precious this place is.”
To learn more, including donating to the restoration of the property or becoming a member of Friends of Rockhaven, visit the Friends of Rockhaven Facebook page or email Linkchorst at FriendsOfRockhaven@gmail.com.
To learn how to purchase a ticket to the Prom Plus Holiday Tour of Homes, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Mary at (818) 248-2740.