Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Sanitariums in CV – Dr. Briggs, Utley’s, Kimball’s and Dunsmore

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

As I said last week, there were many sanitariums in the early history of CV, mostly for the treatment of lung diseases. The valley’s pure air quality of the late 1880s and early 1900s brought them here and the foul air quality of the later part of the 20th Century drove them away.

So what remains today of those sanitariums? That’s hard to ferret out due to a frustrating lack of records of these sanitariums. Most of what we know today is reliant on a few old news articles and neighborhood lore … just legends and a few old buildings.

But first a tangent – written history can be a slippery subject as new sources come to light and old sources are reinterpreted. Local historian Jo Anne Sadler has just released a new book, “Crescenta Valley Pioneers,” based on entirely new research. In her new book, she has a very different take on Briggs and Pickens and tells us about the men behind place names such as Dunsmore and Shields.

She told me recently that Dr. Briggs came to CV intending to start a sanitarium, but according to old letters, was too weak from his own TB to ever achieve his goal! No records exist of him ever treating anyone, but he did promote the valley for its curative qualities. His home was up on Briggs Terrace just off Freeman near Terrace Drive. It was bulldozed in the ’60s and nothing remains. Higher up at Freeman and Maurice is an old water tower from the time of Briggs and probably belonging to him. It has been converted to a cute little home, but still retains the shape of the water tower.

Further down the Terrace, just off Shields about a half a block up from Goss Canyon Drive, is the former location of Utley’s Sanitarium. Again, local lore has it that a couple of the houses in a little private cul-de-sac date back to the sanitarium, along with a few of the rock walls. I was contacted a couple years ago by someone in this neighborhood whose home was haunted by a very active ghost, not surprising given that patients in TB facilities checked in but rarely checked out.

Down the hill, on Foothill where Ralph’s supermarket is today was Kimball’s Sanitarium, the most notorious of the local sanitariums. Unlike the TB sanitariums that made up the bulk of the facilities in the valley, Kimball’s was a sanitarium for the treatment of mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction. It was full-on creepy looking, operating out of an old Victorian mansion with a cement blockhouse style lock-up facility to one side. It was completely demolished in the early ’60s when the shopping mall was built and the ground it sat on was excavated to make a flat pad for the stores. Only a couple of things remain of the place. There’s a house on Raymond that was a residence for the nurses and a house over near the La Crescenta Library that had been an outbuilding of Kimball’s Sanitarium and was physically moved off the property during demolition. Also neighbor Joe Rakasits tells me that the palm trees on the lower side of the Mormon church parking lot were part of the sanitarium’s landscaping.

Heading west in the valley we find Dunsmore Park, which was established in 1933 as Mt. Lukens Sanitarium and later renamed Dunsmore Sanitarium. The community building there is part of the original facility and old photos of the building show the high peaked roof as having dormer windows, indicating that perhaps patients or staff slept upstairs. The artistic rock walls that run throughout the park were built by the owner, and perhaps the patients, of the TB sanitarium in the ’40s and ’50s. Glendale bought the sanitarium for a park in 1957, and demolished a couple of the buildings, but fortunately kept the main house and most of the imaginative rock walls for us to enjoy today.

Next week I’ll get into Hillcrest and Rockhaven sanitariums, along with what we know about the “home sanitariums.”