By Mary O’KEEFE
In the saga of the future of Rockhaven Sanitarium there comes another twist: Gangi Design LED Build is now out of the project. Glendale City Council made the decision during closed session.
The story of Rockhaven began in the early 1920s when a psychiatric nurse – Agnes Richards – wanted to help women with mild mental and nervous disorders. In the time of Me Too, Rockhaven is a story worth looking at. The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, had been ratified just three years before Richards opened Rockhaven Sanitarium with six women patients. At that time, the concept of Me Too was not even thought about. Survival for many women was first and foremost in their minds. Sanitariums were traditionally horrific places, especially for women. Abuse and the misunderstanding of what is considered now as basic issues, including menopause, was something accorded less understanding and, at times, brut force. By all accounts Richards, like many women of her generation, did not think of herself as a feminist but only as a woman helping in a respectful way other women dealing with mental issues. She started with a couple of houses on the property then expanded.
That is another part of the story to note – she was a woman who owned property and ran her own business – things that were not commonplace in her day.
There are stories of the famous who stayed at Rockhaven including Billie Burke who played Glinda the Good Witch in the “Wizard of Oz” and Marilyn Monroe’s mother Gladys Pearl Baker who, after Marilyn’s death, Richards generously allowed to stay at Rockhaven without paying in order to give her family and friends time to find a place for her.
By all accounts, Joanna Linkchorst does not consider herself a feminist but she has definitely taken on the fight with a fervor similar to any activist to preserve this historical woman’s facility. She is a member of the Friends of Rockhaven that was established to preserve and celebrate the history of Glendale’s Rockhaven.
In 2008, the City of Glendale purchased the 3.5-acre property for $8.25 million to prevent its demolition. The discussion, at the time, centered on making Rockhaven a park; however, due to the economic downturn, there were no funds available for Rockhaven. Between 2008 and present, Friends of Rockhaven continued their watch over the property, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings have been untouched with few, if any, repairs, but the Friends of Rockhaven continue to promote the property and work to get the story out.
The City put out a Request for Proposals in March 2016 for developers. Many of the developers who responded included developers of apartments and/or hotels, but Gangi had proposed a more community-based development featuring restaurants and a park. The City Council listened to the concerns and comments of the community and voted in November 2016 to work with Gangi.
The City’s planning department gave the company specific times to complete specific requirements. According to Matt Gangi, his company was not allowed on the property for several months cutting into the time they needed to complete some of these requirements; however, all deadlines were met according to Gangi.
From the time Gangi was first awarded the development project to last week, the City’s planning department had said the company had missed several deadlines and were granted extensions. Then in December 2018 the Council, after a closed session, decided not work with Gangi. At a January City Council meeting attended by several members of Friends of Rockhaven and Matt Gangi, the issue of extensions was addressed. Matt Gangi brought paperwork, he said, that showed his company had complied with deadlines stated earlier he had missed. He also shared the extensive practices that had been explored in researching the development of the property. Information shared by Gangi appeared to be in opposition to what the planning department stated. The Glendale City Council members said they would put their decision to cut ties with Gangi’s company on hold while they investigated the information shared by Gangi.
Last week the Council held another closed session to discuss the issue, and decided to no longer work with Gangi.
This news was a blow to the Friends of Rockhaven. At a recent Friends of Rockhaven meeting, the members discussed how to move forward and voiced concerns about the future of this historical property. They have not given up hope that the property will be respectfully dealt with and continue to plan cleanup days, and will keep a watchful eye on the buildings, especially during rainstorms. They have even invited new members to join their organization, including Emily Hirsch who went on a Rockhaven tour and knew immediately she wanted to be involved with the property. She has created a database of all of the items in the buildings from historical furniture and clothing down to perfume bottles.
Currently the future of Rockhaven is again in limbo. It is assumed the City Council will decide how to move forward at a future meeting. For Friends of Rockhaven, their fight will continue to share the history of this Glendale woman who pioneered a respectful and dignified approach to mental healthcare for women.