Sanitariums in CV – Hillcrest Sanitarium Part 3
Continuing with my series on Hillcrest Sanitarium, once located at the top of Lowell Avenue, we conclude with its post WWII career.
It had a pre-war run as a high-end sanitarium for lung disease and various other chronic ailments, and its wartime function was basically as a prison hospital for Japanese-American internees with TB. After the war it appears to have become an old folk’s home.
When Glendale annexed a huge portion of the Crescenta Valley in the early ’50s, businesses within the annexation had to apply for city permits. In 1951, Hillcrest Sanitarium was issued a 25-year permit to operate a “home for the aged.” However, by the mid ’60s, Hillcrest Sanitarium went out of business.
In 1967, the Milestone Foundation based in Pasadena applied with the City of Glendale to convert the empty facility into an alcoholic treatment hospital. They were initially turned down by the city. The reasons given were that the property was zoned residential, and that a center for treatment of alcoholics would be detrimental to the neighborhood. Glendale described the facility as dilapidated, and said that the single road access to the sanitarium would be dangerous in a fire. Milestone Foundation argued that the 25-year permit issued to Hillcrest was still in effect, and that they had the legal right to operate a sanitarium, no matter what they were treating there.
Milestone must have prevailed as local lore tells us that it did indeed become a “dry-out” facility for alcoholics, operating under the name of Pine Tree Lodge. Local urban legend has it that drunks roamed the neighborhood, but who knows – that may just be gossip. Pine Tree Lodge couldn’t have lasted very long, as by the early ‘70s a local resident, James Gerhard, tells me there were only slabs where the buildings had been.
In 1987, the drama of that piece of the valley began anew, as a developer bought the property and proposed the development Markridge Estates that is there today. The neighborhood below fought the development, and the Glendale planners agreed with them. The developers appealed it all the way to a city council vote where it was rejected again, based on fire and earthquake danger. Fire danger was a factor because only one road would access the development, and the developers briefly proposed a bridge east across Cooks Canyon to connect to the top of Boston Avenue. Building bridges is a big deal, though, and the fire danger was mitigated with less cost by building a water tank above the development. Many locals remember it being painted by a local artist to look like a giant Coors can. Earthquake danger was, and still is, a factor at the development, as the Sierra Madre Fault runs through the valley just above Markridge. Eventually the development was approved, and in the early 90s, the slabs from Hillcrest Sanitarium were bulldozed away and 42 homes were built.
On the Internet, Hillcrest Sanitarium comes up on a few “ghost hunter” websites, but I think that comes mainly from an old list of abandoned sanitariums that has been circulated by ghost hunters over the years rather than from any documented sightings of ghosts at the site.
I asked James Gerhard if he ever had any paranormal experiences when he was a kid exploring the ruins there in the ’70s and ’80s. He replied: “We never saw any ghosts up there, but I can tell you that there was a strange feeling I can’t really describe. Maybe it was just the eerie surroundings or maybe it was spirits of those who passed away on that hill. I guess if ghosts exist, Hillcrest would be a prime place for them!”
I guess we’d have to ask the residents of Markridge Estates if they ever get any visits from the hundreds of patients that died in despair at Hillcrest Sanitarium.
A reminder from last week: a history book is being produced for Montrose’s 100th birthday. If you have any photos, particularly from the last 40 years, please email them to me, and they’ll be included in the book. Thanks!
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the
Reach him at