Touring Rockhaven Sanitarium
Sanitariums for lung disease and mental problems were once the defining industry of the Crescenta Valley. La Crescenta was founded by a doctor who came here to start a sanitarium, and many others followed him until, in the 1920s, there were dozens of sanitariums. But out of all those facilities, there’s only one left intact – Rockhaven Sanitarium, founded in 1923 specifically for women with mild mental issues.
Abandoned since 2006, its 14 buildings sit on 3½ oak-covered acres on Honolulu Avenue. For the last year, a dedicated group of volunteers, the Friends of Rockhaven, have been offering tours of the quiet rooms and dark hallways. I’m one of their tour guides, and I’ll give you a brief description of our tours.
The tours start on a tree-shaded patio, where guests are treated to a short intro on the history of Rockhaven and the ugly treatment of women mental patients before Rockhaven was founded. After a brief talk about the women who created Rockhaven as a dignified place run “by women, for women,” it’s off to the first building, the Acorn Cottage. This charming little cottage has been fixed up to look as though a resident has just left briefly for a stroll in Rockhaven’s gardens. Clothes hang in the closet, an ancient make-up case is ready for use, and a photo album from the ’30s is open on a table.
Next guests are led through a labyrinth of buildings and hidden gardens to The Oaks (most buildings are named for trees). This large Mission-style dormitory is a cool and quiet time capsule of another era, with furniture and many of the residents’ personal items still in place. Beautiful details like colorful vintage tiled bathrooms abound. A short walk takes us next to the Little Hospital where many residents spent their last few months on earth.
After leaving the hospital, we wander over to The Pines, another large Mission-style building. Outside we hear about the many Hollywood stars who were residents of Rockhaven. Entering The Pines, guests wander from room to room, feeling the quiet presence of so many great women. I’m stationed far ahead, down long halls, in Marilyn Monroe’s mother’s room. As tour-goers enter, I relate to them Gladys Baker’s madness, Marilyn’s forgiveness of her, and Gladys’ deeper insanity after Marilyn’s death.
Once guests have trailed out of The Pines, we make a stop just outside The Willows where I tell the many ghost stories I’ve collected from Rockhaven. From here I point up to an overlooking second story window, where several years ago a photographer snapped a photo of a ghostly someone who parted the curtains and looked down at him. The tour then wraps up in the dining hall where, after exploring the huge old kitchen, guests are given a small book about the old sanitarium, and a chance to exchange ideas about Rockhaven’s future. Guests then wander out through winding oak-shaded paths, snapping final photos. Most stop at the garage, where the beautiful outdoor statuary and vases that once graced the fabulous garden are stored for safekeeping.
Thanks to the generosity and trust of the City of Glendale, which has owned the facility since 2008, Rockhaven is open for scheduled tours for groups, such as clubs and service organizations. For instance, last Saturday the Friends of Rockhaven docents toured a local Girl Scout troop, who got to learn about the great women who created Rockhaven in order to serve an under-served segment of our society – women with mental disabilities. Immediately following the Girls Scouts was a paranormal investigation club from Glendale, who were, I’m sure, hoping to spot some of Rockhaven’s lingering spirits.
If you are in an organization that you think would be interested in a tour, contact the Friends of Rockhaven to set up a time. If you’re an individual wanting to tour, join the Friends of Rockhaven to participate in one of the special Friends tours. The Friends can be reached at FriendsOfRockhaven@gmail.com, or visit them on Facebook.
With the city planning to develop the site, your chance to view an untouched Rockhaven Sanitarium is slipping away fast.