Rockhaven’s rich history and possible future plans were shared at the recent Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley meeting.
By Jason KUROSU
As the City of Glendale explores development options for the vacant Rockhaven property, local community groups continue to promote their concept for a publicly accessible site dedicated to the former sanitarium’s historical and local significance.
At a Monday night meeting of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley, Friends of Rockhaven President Joanna Linkchorst charted the vibrant history of the famed former women’s sanitarium, from its beginnings as one of the few sanctuaries for women with mental health issues to its current state as a city-owned property consisting of numerous unused structures dating back to the 1920s, which locals fear could be lost through development.
Linkchorst gave the audience at the Center for Spiritual Living-La Crescenta an in-depth look at Rockhaven founder and psychiatric nurse Agnes Richards, as well as some of the site’s former residents.
Its collection of small cottages sits in stark contrast with the institutions of the time: immense, prison-like structures that all too often were breeding grounds for patient neglect and mistreatment.
Rockhaven was founded as the antithesis to the large-scale asylum, Linkchorst said.
“You’re not getting locked away. You’re going to get out, you’re going to get active, you’re going to rehabilitate,” Linkchorst said, describing Richards’ vision.
During its operation, the property housed up to 60 women at any given time and was home to a number of well-known patients, among them Billie Burke, who played Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” Broadway actress Peggy Fears, and Marilyn Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker.
But Linkchorst also recounted Rockhaven’s dual function as a community resource, a place where members of the community held tours, gardening classes, concerts, fairs and more.
Rockhaven was owned by three generations of the Richards family, but the buildings suffered the inevitable wear and tear of time. Eventually the property changed hands.
The City of Glendale purchased the property in 2008, at which point intentions for the property began to diverge, residents believe. Coupled with the economic recession, hopes for a public park and/or library gave way to proposals residents fear will clog local streets at best and level the site’s historic structures at worst.
The city has met with developers recently, with at least three proposals gaining significant consideration.
Orange County developers Brooks Street and Lab Holdings, LLC, who were behind Costa Mesa’s The Lab Anti-mall, have proposed a similar outdoor mall concept, paired with 30 bungalow houses.
Psychiatrist Dr. Timothy Pylko & Associates envision a mental health facility that harks back to Rockhaven’s original purpose, with subterranean parking and a public park at the front of the facility.
Gangi Architects and Gelsinger’s have proposed a garden-to-table concept, possibly paired with a winery.
But sticking points for residents and groups like the Friends of Rockhaven remain whether the public would be allowed to readily access any of these proposed sites and whether historic restrictions prohibiting removal or alteration of the original structures could be subverted.
The Friends of Rockhaven’s proposition involves opening the property to the general public and, through fundraising efforts, generating enough money to rehabilitate the buildings.
“We know once we get the public in there, that we’re going to be able to take over,” said Linkchorst. “It’s going to be a park by the people, for the people.”
The city has remained mum on its plans, but has held a number of closed door meetings in recent months regarding a potential sale.
Though the Friends of Rockhaven seek to patch up the nearly century old structures, they also hope to maintain the serenity of the property for the community at-large.
“It still is a very special place. It has a remarkable legacy. It has a beautiful story. But even now it has a sense of peace to it,” said Linkchorst. “It’s very different to get behind those walls and see what it’s really like. We think everybody deserves to get an opportunity to be able to get in there and experience that.”