Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Kimball Sanitarium Part 6 – Kimball’s Becomes Ralphs Supermarket

Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. Reach him at

By the late ’50s it appeared Merritt Kimball, owner/operator of Kimball Sanitarium, was ready to get out of the sanitarium business. A full size community hospital was being planned for the growing Crescenta Valley, and Merritt Kimball had put his property at Rosemont Avenue and Foothill Boulevard in the running as a potential site.

Several news articles in 1958 detailed the competition between three local hospital proposals. Kimball had joined with a developer who was proposing a 54-bed hospital of almost 22,000 square feet on the Kimball site. He was competing against Sidney Brittain who had planned the Foothill Valley Hospital on the east side of Sparr Heights. The third competitor was J. Morgan Greene proposing an unnamed hospital on his property on or around the Indian Springs swimming pool.

Oddly, the city of Glendale was less than enthusiastic about another hospital in its city, saying they had enough already, and they even turned down the initial applications for both the Sparr Heights location and the Indian Springs location. The Kimball property seemed a shoe-in for the valley’s first hospital, and the L.A. Times even declared that the new hospital at Rosemont and Foothill would break ground in November of ’58. But as we all know, things changed, and J. Morgan Greene got the upper hand with his Indian Springs property.

Starting in the early ’60s, Greene developed property higher up the hill for the hospital and used the excavated dirt from that site to fill in the Indian Springs pool and canyon. He built a shopping center there, and moved the old Behrens Hospital from Glendale up to his new site to open as Verdugo Hills Hospital in 1972.

This left Merritt Kimball looking for a new plan for his old sanitarium site. He leased his property to a development firm in ’61, and by ’62 plans were rolling for a big shopping center. After four decades, Kimball Sanitarium was closing. Joe Kroening of Andy’s Transfer helped the Kimballs move out and he had some sad memories of the event.

“As I recall there were quite a number of ‘little cottages’ on the property. Merritt Kimball said, ‘Just follow Mrs. Kimball around and she will show what to take’ and we did just that. As I recall we moved what they were saving up to a house (I believe theirs) on Briggs Avenue north of the sanitarium. The ‘little cottages’ were inhabited by one, two or three men. Most were veterans of WWI and WWII. They were pretty well terrified as it seemed they had been living at Kimball’s since they left the service. I can still recall some of them clinging to Mrs. Kimball, crying that they did not want to leave and what would they do. It was sad then and it’s sad now. I guess post-traumatic stress disorder was as common then as it is now for our returning vets.”

The acres of avocado trees and pine trees were cut down, and the 11-room Victorian mansion and elaborate carriage house were demolished. The old three-story La Crescenta Hotel went down at the same time.

Joe Rakasits, whose brother had the demolition contract, culled a few gems out of the trash cans including Merritt Kimball’s scrapbook from which much of our knowledge of Kimball Sanitarium comes from today.

Tons of earth were moved to make the pad flat. The shopping center went up quickly with the main stores being, west to east, Builder’s Emporium (today Ralphs), Food Giant (soon replaced by Alpha Beta), Nahas department store, and Thrifty Drug Store with a number of small stores on the east side including my personal childhood favorite, John Henry’s Ice Cream Parlor.

I don’t know what ever happened to the Kimballs. I hope my readers don’t feel I’ve given them a bad rap. They were doing a difficult, unpopular and sometimes dangerous job with the best medical knowledge of the day. They were good people, community leaders who were serving a segment of society most of us would rather ignore. They did their best to make our world a better place.

One Response to "Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler"

  1. Todd Thornbury   September 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Great series on Kimball’s. Scariest part of the articles is how easy it was to commit someone for a seemingly mild offense (drinking, adultery,etc). Arn’t we all glad those days are long gone!

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