‘So What’s Going to Happen to Rockhaven Sanitarium?’
I often get asked that question, and my answer is invariably, “It will become a park.”
As a refresher for those who don’t know about Rockhaven Sanitarium: It was established in 1923 by a nurse who was horrified by the treatment of the mentally ill, particularly women. She created a home-like environment where women with mental disabilities would be treated with dignity and respect. Family-owned, it was a highly respected sanitarium – run by women, for women – for over 80 years. When it finally closed in 2006, it was faced with demolition. In 2008, the City of Glendale stepped in and bought it, preserving the last intact sanitarium in a community that was founded on the sanitarium industry. It stands as a monument of women’s history, the history of the mental health movement and our local history.
Sadly, the bright future of Rockhaven has darkened in the seven years since the city bought the property. In the heady enthusiasm of its initial purchase, it was to be a historical park and home to a new library. In 2008, then-Councilman Frank Quintero effused, “I am so happy for the entire city of Glendale because this is literally going to be a regional park that Glendale residents can use as well as residents in La Crescenta, the county portion, Tujunga and everywhere. This is truly a magnificent property.”
But the economy crashed putting an end to any grand ideas for a library. And, sadly, nearly everyone involved in the original park plan retired or moved on. With new leadership, the city’s feelings about the property are lukewarm at best. As a result, the beautiful and intriguing 3½ acre site is padlocked and off limits to the general public. Lately the city has even entertained the notion of selling the property. The attitude of city management today is that it would take millions to open the park, and that just isn’t going to happen. But would it really take millions to open the park? Why can’t it be opened in small sections over several years?
Let’s look back at the history of one of our greatest parks – Deukmejian Wilderness Park. In the late ’60s the Le Mesnager Ranch and its historic stone barn in Dunsmore Canyon were sold to a developer. Locals objected and fought development and by 1984 the fight gained enough traction that the City of Glendale began to negotiate to purchase the property. It took a full five years to cobble enough money together from the City, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and the state (via then-Governor Deukmejian – thus the name). In 1989 the rough land was purchased. It sat untouched for another 15 years (although, unlike Rockhaven, it remained open to the public). In 2004 the city finally began a series of improvements that are still going on today. The initial anchor of the developed park, the trail system, the overflow parking, the vineyard, the seismic refit of the barn, and the currently happening interior renovation of the barn have all taken place at different times via a variety of funding sources, such as grants. The park has made good use of community volunteer labor as well.
This same template for park development could be used for Rockhaven. The Friends of Rockhaven, a volunteer group that is partnering with the City, does the hands-on work of sweeping the empty halls and repairing broken windows. But they are also creating a proposed master plan for the park – a dream-scheme if you will. Their plan proposes using volunteer labor to open the peaceful grounds of Rockhaven in small stages. Working with the City, they would then open one building at a time, preserving the historic architecture and upgrading as they went, perhaps renting some units to create a revenue flow.
Our valley is going to grow and parkland will become increasingly valuable. Opening this park in sections is a viable alternative to spending millions on a complete opening. It’s a plan that has worked before and it’s a plan that can work now. Rockhaven was purchased as a park – it should become a park!