By Mary O’KEEFE
On Thursday, property developers and others toured the grounds of Rockhaven Sanitarium in the 2700 block of Honolulu Avenue. With the proposal deadline of July 28 quickly approaching those wishing to develop the grounds are now putting the finishing touches on their plans and hoping the City of Glendale will agree that their idea is the best choice for the historical site.
The June 20 proposal deadline was extended after Rockhaven was added to the National Register of Historic Places, although Glendale city representatives have said the historical listing would not have much effect on the RFPs. This historical designation does have limitations on what can be done with the property, though.
“It has always been our intention to have Rockhaven designated [as a historic site],” director of the city’s Community Development Dept. Phillip Lanzafame said in a recent interview with CVW. He explained the developers knew the city’s desire to have a historic designation and felt their vision for the property would be compatible with that designation.
“It won’t affect the [developers] at all,” he said.
But the city did give the developers a little more time to review their proposals to make certain they were compliant with the restrictions surrounding historic properties.
Jay Platt, senior urban designer for the City of Glendale, and Jennifer McLain, principal economic development officer, led the walk-through. Those interested were taken on a tour that included the story of how Agnes Richards opened the sanitarium for women in 1923 and created a safe place for them to recover from and live with mental illness. Those taking part in the tour also walked the grounds and admired the architecture and ironwork and imagined the once lush garden areas.
The city of Glendale purchased the property in 2008 and, at that time, it was hoped it would become the site of a new library; however, due to changes in the economy that did not happen and the city has been looking at other options.
In a recent Glendale City Council meeting the criteria for development had been expanded to include a variety of designs, including a public park, as part of the proposals. Proposals had been submitted by some who wanted to bring a medical facility to the grounds but that idea received negative comments from the community.
At last week’s tour most commented on how much work was needed on the impressive historic buildings, though many people also remarked what a “calming” atmosphere surrounded the three-plus acres. Since the city acquired the property few improvements have been made to the site and maintenance has been minimal.
Proposals from those walking through Rockhaven included building a boutique hotel that would include a park in the front of the property that would be open to the public. Another proposal was for multi-use of the property including some of the buildings being used for offices for non-profit organizations.
Matt Gangi was one of the interested parties who took the Rockhaven tour.
“We would like to [open] some of the buildings to non-profits,” he said, “and to have a farm-to-table restaurant.”
The grounds would be “groomed” and would be a type of retreat, he added, that would be open to the public.
“This property is beautiful. I grew up here and would love to see a community park,” Gangi said.
The proposals, according to the developer representatives on the tour, would take into consideration the general feel of what Agnes had created – that of a calming place for people to heal – in this case from everyday stress. Others who were there said they were architects looking at the property’s possibilities but would not share what they envisioned, or even if they were working with developers.
It was obvious that all were concerned about the degradation of the buildings and sidewalks, although one visitor said that Rockhaven had “good bones.” They did seem impressed with the history of Rockhaven, but whether that will translate to keeping it open to the public and getting the approval of the community is difficult to say.
In the end it will be the Glendale City Council, advised by the city manager and planners, that will make the final decision on Rockhaven’s fate. Any decision will go through Glendale’s process of collecting community input, McLain said.