Rockhaven Sanitarium was established in 1923 as a “secluded sanctuary” to treat ailing women with dignity in a home-like setting. The sanitarium treated its last troubled soul in 2001. After a failed attempt to run the property as a senior living facility, it finally closed its doors for good in 2006 and has sat abandoned and threatened ever since.
Rockhaven Sanitarium, which was also known as the Screen Actors Sanitarium, was originally founded in January 1923 by a nurse named Agnes Richards. After witnessing firsthand the poor treatment of the mentally ill while working in both San Bernardino’s Patton State Hospital and the Los Angeles County General Hospital (which is ironically where Gladys Baker gave birth to Norma Jean on June 1st, 1926), Richards decided to open her own “secluded sanctuary” to treat ailing women with dignity in a home-like setting. She leased a two-story building with a stone façade (hence the name “Rockhaven”) on Honolulu Avenue in Montrose for $125 a month and took in six patients, whom she called “residents.” By the next year, the number of residents had grown to 24.
Fans of Rockhaven
To house the growing number of residents, Richards began purchasing neighboring homes, as well as constructing new buildings on adjacent vacant land. By 1940, the expanded site, which was one of California’s first private mental health institutions, consisted of 15 Craftsman and Spanish Revival-style buildings, 12 lots of land totaling 3.3 acres, facilities to treat over one hundred patients, a small hospital, a dining hall, and a professional kitchen. The gorgeous grounds, which won a landscaping award in 1966, featured gardens, towering oak trees, grottos, ponds, flowerbeds, fountains, shaded patios, statuaries, and meandering footpaths.
Friends of Rockhaven, which is a preservation group that sprung from the efforts by the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley, is helping the City of Glendale maintain the grounds and buildings until something can be done to open it to the public as the park it was intended to be.
When Rockhaven was shuttered for good in 2006, many patients’ belongings were left behind as if their owners were planning to return. Clothes remained hanging in closets, greeting cards stood on shelves and framed photos and even some bibles lingered on nightstands. The Friends of Rockhaven have recently began to clean the interiors of some of the buildings, leaving some of the original items out in the open just like they were when the place shut its doors for good over 9 years ago.
When the city of Glendale purchased the site for $8.25 million in April 2008, they gathered together all of the lost belongings and put them into storage for safe keeping.
And while there were originally plans to turn the historic location into a community center and public park, when the economy took a downturn, that project had to be put on hold.
This ain’t college, kids.
Bedlam: archaic, an institution for the care of mentally ill people. plural noun: bedlams.
The first house purchased was to be named the Rose cottage. It was built in 1921 and Agnes Richards had it turned around to face the San Gabriel Mountains, which she believed had healing powers for those troubled souls who viewed it. Due to its bucolic quality, several notables sought treatment at Rockhaven including Billie Burke (aka Glinda from The Wizard of Oz), bandleader Babe Egan, dancer Marion Rose, Broadway actress Peggy Fears, Clark Gable’s first wife, Josephine Dillon and Marilyn’s Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker.
Gladys was admitted to Rockhaven Sanitarium on February 9, 1953. She remained there for the next 14 years, thanks to a $5,000-a-year trust fund that Marilyn had set up for her.
During her tenure, Gladys attempted suicide several times and even escaped from the facility in 1963, by tying bed sheets together, climbing out of an 18-inch closet window and scaling a fence. She then walked 15 miles to Lakeview Terrace Baptist Church in Pacoima, where she was found the following day. During yet another eventful escape, Gladys somehow or another got married! In 1967, Gladys was released to her daughter Berniece Baker Miracle, Marilyn’s half-sister, who lived in Florida. She passed away in Gainesville 17 years later, on March 11, 1984, at the age of 81.
Sit back and relax, you’re gonna be here awhile.
Murphy Bed of the insane.
The statue that used to stand in this alcove was recently found in the garage…
…along with this piano that used to reside in one of the buildings.
Thank god for groups like Friends of Rockhaven, whose dedication and preservation efforts help keep the history and spirit of places like this alive.