Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Reflections on Development Plans for Rockhaven

If you are a regular reader of this paper, you read last week a very comprehensive article by reporter Mary O’Keefe on the latest “development” in the restoration of Rockhaven Sanitarium. I have covered this subject in columns before, but it’s worth covering again, as it’s a complex issue.

To refresh your memory, historic Rockhaven Sanitarium, the last intact sanitarium in the valley, closed in 2006 after 83 years of service. It had a fine pedigree, having been established for the dignified care of women with mental illnesses. Its creation signaled a landmark change in the way society treated mental problems. Family owned and operated by women, it also was a symbol of the emerging role of women in today’s society – it was a service run “by women for women.” When it closed, the City of Glendale recognized its value to the community and to history, and purchased the property in 2008 with elaborate plans for a new library, park and community center. Those plans were put on hold when the economy crashed, and Rockhaven has been in mothballs ever since. The city has provided security and upkeep on the property, while community volunteers swept the floors and did light maintenance.

Last year, with the improving economy, the historical societies for Glendale and CV and the Friends of Rockhaven approached the city with the idea that it might be time to start looking at options for the property. In a series of meetings we learned that during the economic downturn the city lost most of its funding for new parks. They simply didn’t have the money at this time to complete the park and library concept. The only thing they could offer right now was to coordinate an exploration of a public/private partnership in which a developer would build for profit on the vacant land in exchange for restoration of the historic structures and for some public uses of the property.

Although we were vastly disappointed and wary of this prospect, the city assured us that this was only an exploration of the concept, and that we could back out at any time. They assured us that this process might be stopped and started several times if necessary until hopefully we found something we were happy with. We agreed to move forward, and the city put out a call to developers who had experience with historic properties. The city worked hard to find companies that were a good match with our vision.

When all the ideas were all in, we were impressed with the quality of some of the concepts. Most involved the building of multi-unit housing and restoration of the historic buildings with varying degrees of public use. However, these were all huge compromises from what we felt the community wanted from this property. In a nutshell: too much housing, too little park. Ultimately we felt that it was too soon to compromise to that degree and we asked the city to put the plans on hold. We don’t know what the economy will be like in the years to come. Perhaps there will be other opportunities in the future. We learned a lot about what is possible and impossible for Rockhaven from this process.

The city and its staff have been incredible through the entire process – hard-working and dedicated to doing what’s best for our community with what resources they had. Throughout the process, we had nay-sayers whispering in our ears that the city would not stop the development process once it started. This turned out to be untrue, as I knew it would. I want to personally thank City Manager Scott Ochoa for leading the team and Peter Zovak for coordinating between us and the developers. They were great to work with.

We need to wait a little longer. It’s too soon to give up the park idea. The economy might be vastly different in the future and other funding may appear. So Rockhaven’s volunteers will pick up their brooms again to sweep the quiet ghost-filled halls hoping their dreams for Rockhaven will someday come true.


Mike Lawler is the former

president of the Historical Society

of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at


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