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La Crescenta’s old asylum for women to become park and boutique shops

A plan to turn Rockhaven Sanitarium into a hotel didn’t have the public’s support, Glendale mayor says

The Glendale City Council has picked a developer to rework the former Rockhaven Sanitarium in La Crescenta into a “boutique commercial center and park,” reports the Glendale News Press. Opened by a woman for women patients, Rockhaven was a healthcare facility that, in contrast to many asylums of its time, treated its patients with dignity. It closed in 2005.

Gangi Design LED Build will renovate 14 buildings from the 1920s-era institution and convert them to “retail and nonprofit use.” The plan allows the city to retain ownership of the site, which it purchased in 2008, and it will be opened up to public use.

Rockhaven, which opened in 1923, was once one of more than two dozen treatment centers for people with longterm illnesses in the Crescenta Valley; in the 1920s, the area’s clean air and sylvan surroundings were seen as potential cures for various ailments. Most treated respiratory diseases, but Rockhaven was built as a “secluded sanctuary” for women with mental illnesses.

It is considered the oldest surviving example of this wave of sanitariums that once flourished in the area, according to a city report.

In close proximity to Hollywood, it had its share of famous residents, including Marilyn Monroe’s mother, Gladys Pearl Eley; the actress Billie Burke, who played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz; and Clarke Gable’s wife Josephine Dillon. But a handful of celebrity connections isn’t why many have fought to keep Rockhaven open to the public.

It was founded by a woman, a nurse named Agnes Richards, whose work in state-run mental health facilities of the time left her critical of the system and convinced that patients of these hospitals, especially women, were suffering under their care.

Richards took a totally different approach to rehabilitation of her patients, starting with the way her hospital looked. The Huffington Post notes that Rockhaven was architecturally different than most state hospitals—instead of a huge, institutional building, small houses and cottages in Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival styles served as patients’ quarters and hospital buildings.

Additionally, says the Post, residents “were encouraged to have daily visitors, and Rockhaven hosted a number of events over the course of the year in which family and friends were encouraged to visit, all of which are the very antithesis of treatment practices in that time.”

The News-Press says the City Council’s decision last week concludes an eight-year effort to revitalize the site. A “selection committee” had recommended turning it into a 45-room hotel. But Glendale Mayor Paula Devine told the News-Press that plan wasn’t as popular with residents. The newspaper says one of the next steps is to assess “feasibility” and design of the reboot—a process that’s expected to take about six months.