By Jason KUROSU
Rockhaven, the last remaining sanitarium in the Crescenta Valley area and a large piece of La Crescenta history, is looking to be renovated. With land bought and developed by nurse Agnes Richards in 1923, the property functioned as a sanctuary for mentally ill women until it was eventually converted into a convalescent home. It was shut down in 2006 and the property has remained stagnant, other than as a piece of historical interest.
The 3½-acre property, situated in the 2700 block of Honolulu Avenue, is made up of 15 buildings. Other than the “rockhouse,” which underwent serious damage in a 1971 earthquake, the buildings remain as they did for most of the century. The furniture, even some personal belongings and medical equipment, remain inside the various sleeping quarters, living rooms and hospital spaces. Some of the furniture is marked with Post-its, signifying that those pieces be kept intact.
Much of the interest in renovation lies in preserving the site’s vast historical wealth. Known in its time as the “Screen actor’s sanitarium” for its bevy of celebrity patients, Rockhaven housed such women as actress Billie Burke, who played Glinda, the good witch from the original Wizard of Oz, and Gladys Baker, mother of Marilyn Monroe.
The site was bought by the city of Glendale in 2008, but the renovation plans are facing obstacles.
“There’s just no budget for renovation or developments, especially with the economic situation we’re currently in,” said architect Layla Bettar.
Ideas for the renovation have ranged from anything from a library to a cultural center. Meanwhile, the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley visits the site regularly to sift through furniture and other items of historical value worth preservation. The city of Glendale does the same while maintaining the buildings and gardens onsite with a live-in caretaker.
Bettar, who has worked on renovations in Sparr Heights, the Glendale Civic Auditorium and the Glendale Heritage Garden, believes many of Rockhaven’s components “may be maintained for adaptive reuse to reflect the historical value of the site.”
However the budget situation has stymied many of these ideas. The beauty of the gardens and the sense of history about the property have been kept intact, but the site is wearing down with age.
“It’s a magical site,” Bettar said. “I’m hoping at some point that the community will be able to enjoy it.”