Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

Will Glendale Sell Rockhaven to a Developer?

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

Incredibly, that’s being currently considered. Many of you remember that in 2006, Rockhaven Sanitarium had closed and the owners had put it up for sale as raw land for apartment and condo development. Rockhaven had been built in 1923 as a haven for women with mental illnesses, a segment of our society that was at that time locked in prison-like conditions. Rockhaven signaled a change in the standards of mental health, moving to dignified healing rather than incarceration. It was also was a female owned business, rare in that era. It was run by women for women. In current times Rockhaven is the last intact sanitarium in a community built on sanitariums, going all the way back to 1881 with our founder Dr. Benjamin Briggs starting the sanitarium movement in CV.

When Rockhaven went up for sale, Glendale recognized its significance to local history, to women’s history and the history of mental health. They also realized that with 3½ acres and 14 buildings, Rockhaven had the potential to be a first-class historical park and community center. They purchased the facility and made plans for restoration of the grounds and buildings, and the construction of a new library. The ground lease income from the new Trader Joe’s would provide the money for restoration.

Fast forward to today. The Rockhaven project had been on hold through the recession, but with the recovering economy, the City has once again revisited Rockhaven. However, it’s not the same Glendale. The movers and shakers of the new Glendale are all business. Development is king as downtown insanely builds its way into gridlock. And now they have cast their eyes on a 3½ acre “undeveloped parcel” in North Glendale, the former Rockhaven Sanitarium. The new leaders of Glendale say “A park? You have too many parks already. A new library? Out of the question. The Trader Joe’s money? I don’t think so; we want the money downtown. That parcel needs to pay for itself. Sorry, pal, looks like we’ll have to sell it.”

This is land that was purchased as dedicated park land. But apparently the new Glendale can’t stand to see an “undeveloped parcel.” Glendale is currently entertaining proposals from developers interested in buying this land we purchased as a park. In each case, the developers have promised (as developers always do) to respect the history of Rockhaven, and to provide a small amount of public space. But once they own it, they can flip the property to the next developer who made no such promises. I suspect they will.

Glendale needs to slow down on this death-march to over-development. Rockhaven’s not going anywhere, and the community has shown it will pitch in on maintaining it until it’s ready to become the great park we envisioned. We recognize that CV will inevitably become more crowded, and parks will be needed.

As a historian, I recognize that this has been a common story in the history of park development for Glendale. This step-by-step scenario has played out over and over again. Step one – An opportunity to create a park comes up. Step two – Glendale resists, claiming poverty. Three – The community demands it. Four – Glendale relents and creates a great park. Five – The great park becomes a boon to the city, raising the quality of life for its residents and increasing property values. Deukmejian Park, the Verdugo Mountains Open Space Preserve, Brand Park, San Rafael Adobe – they’ve all had the same story. The City didn’t want it at the time, and now they’re glad they have it.

That is the scenario that Glendale should allow to happen with Rockhaven. What’s the big hurry? We can build a great park if just given the time. In the Crescenta Valley we value our quiet lifestyle, our calm shopping areas and our park land. That’s why people move here. That’s part of why our property values are good. We value our history as well. That’s why we are working hard to preserve Rockhaven as a park. Once it’s sold to a developer, it’s gone forever.