Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Posted by on Aug 29th, 2013 and filed under Viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Famous Residents of Rockhaven Sanitarium

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Rockhaven Sanitarium on Honolulu Avenue just east of La Crescenta Avenue operated from 1923 to 2006 as a high-end “women only” sanitarium for the treatment of mental illness. The property is now owned by the City of Glendale and will someday open as a park and community center.

The residents of Rockhaven received kind and respectful treatment, and thus the business attracted several entertainment notables. Although I’ve covered this before, it’s worth repeating, with more detail.

One such Rockhaven resident was Billie Burke, most famous as “Glenda the Good Witch” in the Wizard of Oz. She had a career that spanned from silent movies to television, and was the long time spouse of Broadway producer Flo Ziegfeld, of Ziegfeld Follies fame. Another was Josephine Dillon, Clark Gable’s first wife, credited with making him suitable for stardom. She trained him in acting, paid to have his teeth fixed and hair styled, and taught him to lower his naturally high voice. Spike Jones (the Al Yankovich of his day) had his mom at Rockhaven, and we’ve found photos of him amongst the many personal treasures left behind. Marion Rose was the female half of the husband/wife dance duo Stadler and Rose, a successful touring dance act in the 1930s. They were featured in the movie “King of Jazz” with Bing Crosby. Babe Egan was a successful female jazz violinist who formed what many call the first all-girl band “Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads.” They were a staple on the big-time vaudeville circuit in the ’20s and ’30s, touring Europe twice.

Rockhaven resident Peggy Fears was a dynamic force on Broadway and in Hollywood, and is a fascinating character study of her time. Starting out as a Ziegfeld girl and playing in many Broadway roles, she soon became a producer with her on-again off-again husband, and became wealthy. She was a Hollywood party girl and was notorious as a bi-sexual, rumored to be a lover to stars Louis Brooks and Tedi Thurman. Her friends included W.C. Fields and Charlie Chaplin. At Rockhaven today is a memorial rose garden walk with plaques featuring favored residents’ names and Fears name is prominent.

But the most famous resident of Rockhaven was not a star in her own right but the legendary “lost” mother of Marilyn Monroe. Monroe’s mother Gladys Baker has had much written about her, and her mental instability has been blamed for Marilyn’s own troubles. During Marilyn’s childhood she was in and out of the girl’s life, leaving her to be raised by a succession of foster parents. Gladys spent several years in mental institutions, losing her other two kids, but never relinquishing custody of Marilyn. The confused daughter tried unsuccessfully to reconcile with her insane mother. As Marilyn grew into a star, she took to calling herself an orphan. In 1955, at the height of her fame, she owned up to her mother, and admitted to the press that she had lied about being an orphan, which caused a sensation. She tracked down Gladys at Norwalk State Mental Hospital and had her transferred to the plush Rockhaven Sanitarium.

After Marilyn’s death in 1962, Gladys became even more disturbed. The trust fund dedicated to pay for Gladys’s care was, like the rest of Marilyn’s fortune, wiped out in contentious court battles. To Rockhaven’s credit, they allowed her to stay on for free. Gladys, in the absence of Marilyn, became a focus of media attention and she gave them what they wanted. A few suicide attempts were reported, and several escapes from Rockhaven gave the papers something to write about. In one escape, she walked all the way to Lake View Terrace, and in another long-term escape she managed to get married. In 1967, her oldest daughter Bernice took the troublesome Gladys off Rockhaven’s hands and moved her to Florida. In the Historical Society’s Rockhaven tours, we point out the room Gladys stayed in and the tiny window she made her escapes through.

Rockhaven Sanitarium has a history we as a community can be proud of. It’s Hollywood connection makes it all the more interesting.

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2 Responses for “Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler”

  1. [...] Gladys was admitted to Rockhaven Sanitarium on February 9, 1953.  She remained there for the next 14 years, thanks to a $5,000-a-year trust fund that Marilyn had set up for her.  During her tenure there, Gladys attempted suicide several times and even escaped from the facility in 1963, by tying bed sheets together, climbing out of an 18-inch closet window and scaling a fence.  She then walked 15 miles to Lakeview Terrace Baptist Church in Pacoima, where she was found the following day.  During yet another eventful escape, Gladys somehow or another got married! [...]

  2. I never knew about the mental hospital but maybe people didn’t want to spread it around that there was such a place. I was told it used to be a resort area where people with TB and asthma went. By the time I was out there the smog had risen that far and it wouldn’t have been good for that.

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