Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

Misconceptions, Disappointments and Hopes About the Future of Rockhaven

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

During my recent involvement with the City of Glendale about possible development of the Rockhaven Sanitarium site, I became painfully aware of some disconnects in what the community (and I) expected from Rockhaven, and what the city’s expectations were. Most of us still envision the concepts we heard in 2008 when the city bought the property. It’s not the same landscape anymore.

Here are four “concepts” that have sadly become “misconceptions:”

1. Rockhaven will be the site of the new Montrose Library. When our Rockhaven community group showed up at our first meeting with the city last year, we happily showed them our concept drawing of where on the property the new Montrose Library would go. The city was very blunt. The library was not going to happen. Too expensive and, given the financial climate, the current library does just fine. Not on the negotiating table. End of story.

But, one might ask, what about the recent multi-million dollar redo of the Brand Library? Don’t the same constraints apply there? No, the Brand Library project was begun 20 years ago and its funding had been in place for a very long time.

2. The money the city receives from the Trader Joes property lease will go to fund Rockhaven restoration. That’s the deal we all heard about in 2008. However, Trader Joes paid for much of the pre-construction cleanup of the cash-strapped city’s property in exchange for free rent until 2015. So will Rockhaven start getting the money in 2015 when TJ’s starts paying rent? No. Turns out that although lots of people talked about the TJ rent money going to Rockhaven, no one ever made the actual city budget arrangements needed to make that happen, and the budget currently shows that rent money going into the general funds. In other words, somebody dropped the ball. The Rockhaven advocates will now have to renegotiate, and get in line with every other group that wants that money.

3. We thought all these arrangements were a done deal! Six years ago everyone happily agreed (verbally) that the future of Rockhaven was bright as a library/park/community center. There was a lot of congratulating and back slapping but, again, just like the TJ money deal, no one actually put anything official in place. In the six years since then, the economy crashed, and everyone involved in the purchase – everyone who agreed with the original concept – has retired or moved on to other jobs. The current powers – new city manager, new head of parks, new councilmen, etc. – were not part of the original verbal agreements about the property, and are forced by bad city economics to be more pragmatic. The city’s budget has been cut to the bone.

The city’s take on it is: great concept! We’d love to do it! Now just tell us how to pay for it.

4. Rockhaven is destined to be a community center and park. I hope this isn’t a misconception, but at this point it will take a strong will and hard work to make it happen. But it’s important to remember that Rockhaven represents a change in the way mentally ill people were handled – a change from a prison-like environment to one of caring, respect and dignity. It’s also a tangible example of the changing status of women in our society. It was a business run by women, for women, from a time when women were second-class citizens. And it’s historic – the last intact sanitarium in CV, which was founded on the sanitarium industry.

As the Valley continues to grow, we’ll need more parks and community centers, and I doubt we’ll ever see a site as tailor-made for it as this one is. It’s too great an opportunity to miss.

If you’d like to learn more about Rockhaven Sanitarium, there will be a program on it this Saturday, Sept. 6 at 2 p.m. at the La Crescenta Library. As well, if you join the Friends of Rockhaven, you’re invited to guided tours of the site, including one Saturday morning. Join by emailing

This is a cause worth getting behind!