Rockhaven Sanitarium Historic District

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Gates to Rockhaven Sanitarium

The Rockhaven Sanitarium Historic District is located in the Crescenta Valley at 2713 Honolulu Avenue in what is now the City of Glendale, California. It was opened in 1923 by psychiatric nurse Agnes Richards as a private mental health institution for women with mild mental and nervous disorders as the brochure read.[1] At Rockhaven women could be treated with dignity and grace in a beautiful and serene environment.[2]


Rockhaven was inspired by principles of the Cottage Plan of Asylum architecture for mental institutions, first developed in the late nineteenth century. The Cottage Plan placed numerous individual buildings within landscaped gardens in order to create a serene, homelike environment for residents. Rockhaven is one of the best examples of an early twentieth century woman-owned, women-serving private sanitarium in California, and was one of the first of its type in the nation. It reflects the vision of founder Agnes Richards, R.N., and represents a small, yet significant movement that sought to improve the conditions of mentally ill women in the early twentieth century.[3]

Agnes Traviss Richards, a registered nurse, was inspired to found her own institution when she became discouraged by the way women with mental illness were treated by large, state-run facilities. Having worked in state-run insane asylums in Nebraska, Iowa and Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, California, she witnessed the atrocities firsthand. Richards’ vision was to create a peaceful, homelike setting where women could be cared for surrounded by gardens and lush landscaping.[4]

Building and Architecture[edit]

Rockhaven Sanitarium Historic District occupies a 3.4-acre site on beautiful oak-treed grounds with several vintage hospital wards and guest cottages. There are a total of fifteen buildings on the property which were erected between 1920 and 1972. Agnes Richards had some buildings relocated to the Rockhaven Sanitarium and others lifted and turned on their foundation to invite sunlight into the rooms. Richards acquired the five Craftsman style buildings over time and she hired Prescott and Brothers to design the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture style structures which were popular in Southern California in the 1920s and 1930s. Patios and courtyards acted as extensions of the residents’ indoor living quarters inviting privacy and serenity.[5]

Notable residents[edit]

Rockhaven Sanitarium became known as the "Screen Actors' Sanitarium," housing starlets and those connected to show business.

Gladys Pearl Eley Baker, mother of Marilyn Monroe, lived at Rockhaven from 1952 to 1966. Eley was reported to have escaped from the sanitarium several times; a year after Monroe's death in 1962, Eley received press attention for having walked 15 miles to the Lakeview Terrace Baptist Church.[6]

Billie Burke, was a famous Broadway actress and film star but is best known for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz (1939 film).[7] Burke was a long-time resident of Rockhaven.[8]

Peggy Fears, Broadway actress and legendary Ziegfeld show girl turned-producer [9] who became a real estate financier died at Rockhaven in August 1994.[10]

Josephine Dillon, famed acting teacher and married at one time to Clark Gable died at Rockhaven on November 11, 1971 where she had been lovingly cared for during a long illness.[11]

Marion Eleanor Statler Rose, actress best known as the female half of the vaudeville duo Statler & Rose who appeared in technicolor musicals of the time including King of Jazz in 1933 [12] entered Rockhaven as a resident in 1994.

Mary Florence Cecilia (Babe) Egan, was the leader of the all-girl band The Hollywood Redheads that played throughout the United States, Canada and Europe in the mid-1920s.[13] Egan lived her final years at Rockhaven where she died of a stroke in 1966.[14][15]

Gwen Lee, a stage and film actress and flapper in silent films of the 1920s and 1930s, who mental health difficulties, real or alleged, made the news when her mother sued to become Lee's legal guardian and take control of her money.[16] Lee spent some time at Rockhaven out of the limelight.

Closure and Current Fate[edit]

Agnes Richards ran Rockhaven Sanitarium until 1967 when she passed it on to her granddaughter Patricia Traviss. In Traviss' time Rockhaven changed with the needs of its residents and became popular for care of the elderly women with dementia. In 2001 Traviss sold Rockhaven to a large hospital corporation. However, by 2006 they found the upkeep too costly and sold it to developers who planned to scrap the lot and build condos.[17] The community stepped in to stop the demolition[18] and in 2008 the City of Glendale purchased Rockhaven for about $8.25 million with the intent to open the property to the public for use as a community park.[19]

In February 2016, the site was being considered by the City of Glendale for "adaptive reuse."[20] As of March 2016, the site is being considered for use as a mental health facility or a shopping center."[21]

Historic Designation[edit]

The California State Historical Resources Commission gave unanimous approval to list the Rockhaven Sanitarium to the California Register of Historical Resources on April 18, 2016.[22] Despite objection by the City of Glendale,[23][24] the Friends of Rockhaven successfully nominated the Rockhaven Sanitarium for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.[25]

Friends of Rockhaven[edit]

The Friends of Rockhaven is a 501(c)(3) charity organized to protect the buildings and legacy of Rockhaven Sanitarium and ultimately with the hopes to set aside Rockhaven Sanitarium Historic District as a public park and community center.[26] The Friends host tours of the historic site to help educate the public on the importance of the Rockhaven Sanitarium Historic District and lobby the City of Glendale to encourage restoration of the property.[27]


  1. ^ "Rockhaven Sanitarium". Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  2. ^ "Rockhaven Sanitarium". Historical Society of Crescenta Valley. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. ^ "Rockhaven Sanitarium Historic District". Office of Historic Preservation. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  4. ^ "Historic Designation Approved for former Glendale Sanitarium". Historic Resources Group. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  5. ^ "2009 ROCKHAVEN SANITARIUM Historic Resource and Conditions Assessment". City of Glendale. 07/01/2009. Retrieved 08/02/2016. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  6. ^ "ES Updates". ES Updates. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  7. ^ "Billie Burke". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  8. ^ "Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler - Crescenta Valley Weekly | Crescenta Valley Weekly". Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  9. ^ League, The Broadway. "Peggy Fears – Broadway Cast & Staff | IBDB". Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  10. ^ "Peggy Fears; Ziegfeld Follies Showgirl". Los Angeles Times. 1994-08-27. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  11. ^ "Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler - Crescenta Valley Weekly | Crescenta Valley Weekly". Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  12. ^ "11 Jun 1933, Page 6 - The Taylor Daily Press at". Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  13. ^ "Babe Egan & Her Hollywood Red Heads 1920's". Flickr. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  14. ^ "Musician Bios | Some Liked It Hot – Jazz Women in Film and Television". Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  15. ^ "Mary Florence "Babe" Egan (1897 - 1966) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  16. ^ "Gwen Lee". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  17. ^ "Guest Post: Rescuing Rockhaven, Gem of the Foothills". 2013-09-03. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  18. ^ "friends-of-rockhaven". friends-of-rockhaven. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  19. ^ "City of Glendale, CA : Rockhaven RFP". Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  20. ^ Mikalian, Aran. "The future of Rockhaven: reopen as a mental health facility or turn into a shopping center?". Los Angeles Times. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  21. ^ Mikalian, Aran. "Crescenta Valley Water District dedicates well at Rockhaven". Los Angeles Times. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  22. ^ Press, Glendale News. "State commission adds Rockhaven to historic register". Glendale News-Press. Retrieved 2016-07-29.
  23. ^ Press, Glendale News. "Glendale city manager objected to Rockhaven's historic designation, citing concern for developers". Glendale News-Press. Retrieved 2016-07-29.
  24. ^ Trinh, Jean. "The History And Uncertain Future Of The Former Sanitarium To The Stars (Photos)". LAist. Archived from the original on 2016-06-24. Retrieved 2016-07-29.
  25. ^ Federal Register, 81 FR 33268, May 25, 2016
  26. ^ "friends-of-rockhaven". friends-of-rockhaven. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  27. ^ "Rockhaven Sanitarium". Friends of Rockhaven. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)

Coordinates: 34°12′40″N 118°14′18″W / 34.2112°N 118.2384°W / 34.2112; -118.2384