By Mary O’KEEFE
This historical property has been the site of community service for 100 years.
In 1923 former nurse Agnes Richards, who had spent much of her career working in asylums in California, founded Rockhaven Sanitarium. Rockhaven and the Friends of Rockhaven, the caretaking arm for the property, will be celebrating their 100-year anniversary throughout the year beginning with a dance on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. It features DJ Howling Hobo, who has a collection of vintage tunes from the first half of the last century. Looking forward, Friends of Rockhaven will be offering tours of the property and in September is planning a big event: a street fair in front of Rockhaven.
But before the celebrations begin it is important to look at the beginnings of Rockhaven and what the future holds for this historical location at 2713 Honolulu Ave. in the City of Glendale.
Richards founded the sanitarium for women in 1923. This was only three years after women won the right to vote in the U.S. Women-owned businesses may not have been unusual but independent women struggled a lot more than their male business counterparts.
Women could be placed in a sanitarium for a variety of reasons; none would have to be diagnosed with a mental illness. For example there is the story of Elizabeth Packard, an activist for women’s rights. She was institutionalized in 1860 for being independent. At the time she was a mother of six and had stood up to her husband, who learned all he had to do, as her husband, was to sign his name to commit her to an asylum. Because the wheel of women’s justice turns extremely slowly and, even at times in reverse, when Richards was a nurse she witnessed similar abusive practices. And of course once women were in an institution the abuse oftentimes continued.
So that a woman would start her own business offering a safe and respectful place for women who were struggling with mental illness, or some who were just suffering from an independent mind, is quite awe-inspiring.
The former sanitarium has had a roller coaster, nail-biting history. In 1967 Richards passed the facility to her daughter Patricia Traviss who ran it until 2001. It was then sold to a large hospital corporation; however, in 2006 the corporation found the upkeep was too costly and sold it to developers who planned to build condos. The community stepped in and the City of Glendale saved this historical women’s facility, purchasing it with the expressed plan to open it to the public for use as a community park. But the economic downturn occurred and the property sat ignored until about 10 years ago when City staff began expressing a renewed interest in Rockhaven. To many the interest was not to honor the woman who founded the facility and those who had called it their safe haven, but to develop the property. And here is where local resident Joanna Linkchorst stepped in.
“Mike Lawler, my daughter Kate and I began giving tours,” Linkchorst said.
Lawler is a local historian, board member of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley, author and columnist for CVW.
“We would ask people at the end of the tours if anyone wanted to head up a group to advocate on behalf of the property, like a Friends of the Library,” she said.
Unfortunately she didn’t find a lot of people who wanted to step up. Then one day a group showed up to tour and the caretaker told them they gave tours to developers the day prior.
“So we knew we needed to step it up and create a formal organization to advocate on behalf of the community for its historic park. That very day my second grade teacher happened to be on the tour. We announced that we had decided to form the Friends of Rockhaven and she handed us a $100 check,” Linkchorst said. “We started out as an extension of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley but one day I decided we need our own non-profit. We were incorporated in September 2014.”
For decades Rockhaven has been part of the historical landscape of Glendale and Montrose.
“My folks bought a house in the Sparr Heights neighborhood of Glendale over 20 years ago,” said Glendale Mayor Ardy Kassakhian.
He is a graduate of Glendale High School, his brother graduated from CV High School and his mother taught at Clark Magnet High School, so his roots run deep in Glendale.
“I’m very familiar with the area and remember when the sanitarium was still operating,” he said.
He remembered the last years of operation as not being kind to the old buildings at Rockhaven. When he would pass by he’d hope that someone would come and renovate the property to improve it. But because it was behind a gate and fence Kassakhian said he never had an opportunity to walk the property until it was purchased by the City of Glendale.
“Once I came onto the grounds I saw tremendous potential for it as a site for a future library and community center and other uses like art and exercise classes, and to be a general benefit to the community,” he said.
Linkchorst, too, has been drawn to Rockhaven, although she can’t really say it was one singular aspect of the property’s story over another that attracted her.
“I have always loved history, especially Los Angeles history. My mom told me stories of growing up on 28th Street, of roller skating up to the front door of the Doheny Mansion off Figueroa and on rainy days going to the basement of the Natural History Museum to look at stereoscope photos,” she said.
But to her the history of CV meant she could celebrate her history, of the place where she grew up.
“When I was given the opportunity to be part of telling the stories behind this mysterious and beautiful place in our valley it came at a time in my life I was already involved,” Linkchorst said. “My first tour was my first time on the property and I didn’t want to leave.”
Kassakhian said it was important to honor the property that has lasted and been protected for 100 years.
“Not many things last that long in Los Angeles County. My background is Greek and Armenian; both of those cultures have a history that dates back thousands of years,” he said. “But our community here in Crescenta Valley and Glendale, 100 years is almost ancient by comparison to everything else that’s springing up in terms of progress and development.”
Despite the love for the property and respect for women’s history, there have been and are some pretty big obstacles to maintain the Rockhaven property versus the ever-present push for development.
The City staff has had a series of bids go out to a variety of developers – some who want to preserve the site while others want to knock it down. The Friends of Rockhaven and some City officials continue to do what they can to bring awareness of the property and protect its legacy.
Several buildings, thanks to Friends of Rockhaven, have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The listing may not provide a complete “deflector shield” to protect the property, but it does create a sort of development pause for those interesting in wiping the property – and its history – clean.
When asked what she would like to see happen with Rockhaven, Linkchorst said she is very excited that the City plans to have a museum as part of the property.
“I have always dreamed of art being part of the park,” she said. “I want it taught there, I want it made there, I want it displayed there. We would love to see the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley open a museum of local history on the grounds, too. I hope in the Nurse’s Cottage to protect and show off a 1928 bungalow with a found-rock fireplace. My daughter always envisioned a teahouse in the 1921 Coulter Cottage with its rock porch, window seats and patio right outside. And a restaurant in the kitchen, tables and chairs indoors and outside for people to enjoy all there is to these lovely grounds. Also a heritage garden in the spot behind the Nurse’s Cottage where Agnes had her chickens, and a garden so the ladies could be outdoors and active. People can still get the therapeutic benefit of tending a local garden. If we could find a way to move the Montrose Library there, as was first envisioned, it would be a wonderful spot to grab a book and go out and read.”
Linkchorst has more ideas of how Rockhaven could be used as a community place, where the public could come and see movies on the grounds, take yoga classes, as well as many other events.
Kassakhian would also like Rockhaven to be a place for the community.
“I’d love to see Rockhaven house a new library facility and museum. I would love to also see the grounds restored to a park setting where families can come by and take a break and enjoy the peaceful setting in the middle of our otherwise fairly busy community,” he said. “It is truly an oasis and it’s very clear as to why the site was chosen as a place for [women] to come and recover from whatever ailed them. Preserving places of significance helps people in future generations appreciate what others built here who came before us … and Rockhaven is part of that heritage.”
The first of the 100-year celebrations begin on with the centennial dance on Jan. 28 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Appetizers and drinks will be offered. Friends of Rockhaven invite everyone to dress in an outfit from any decade from the last century. A $10 donation is suggested at the door. The dance will be located at the Verdugo Hills Memorial Hall [American Legion Hall Post 288] at 4011 La Crescenta Ave. Parking is available at the location and at CVCHURCH next door and just south of the location.