This Historic Sanitarium For Women Once Hosted Hollywood Stars. A Preservationist Group Fears Its Decay
When it opened its doors in Glendale in the 1920s, Rockhaven was a groundbreaking mental health facility, run by women, for women.
Agnes Richards, a psychiatric nurse who founded Rockhaven, was a pioneer of compassionate mental health care. Over the years, the facility cared for several Hollywood luminaries — including Billie Burke and Marilyn Monroe's mother. But by the early 2000s, Rockhaven shut its doors.
From celebrated facility to plans for a mental health museum
The Rockhaven site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2016 “as one of the best extant examples of an early twentieth century woman-owned, women-serving private sanitarium in the State.”
By then Glendale had bought the historic property for some $8 million. In 2021, State Sen. Anthony Portantino, who represents La Cañada Flintridge, secured $8 million to turn the roughly 3.5-acre property into a mental health museum.
Now a nonprofit preservationist group has filed a lawsuit against the city of Glendale, alleging the city has allowed the historic property to fall into decay.
The suit filed this month by Friends of Rockhaven alleges that the buildings are in “deplorable” condition due to city mismanagement.
“The City’s neglect caused deterioration, dilapidation and decay to public property and will cost taxpayers more than if the City had performed its duty to protect the property as far back as 2008 when it was acquired,” the filing states.
A history of dignified treatment
Richards founded Rockhaven Sanitarium back in 1923 because she was appalled by the treatment of mental health patients at the time.
In the early 20th Century, “insane asylums” were the “atrocious sort of places that you see like in American Horror Story," Emily Lanigan, a member of Friends of Rockhaven, told LAist in 2015.
She said of Richards legacy: "And so she really worked to create a place of serenity, of beautiful surroundings, where women were treated with dignity."
Richards built standalone cottages with names such as The Willows and The Pines at Rockhaven. Towering oak trees and meticulously landscaped rose gardens made it a place where patients wanted to venture outdoors.
The care at Rockhaven under Richards’ leadership was “dignified, respectful and individualized,” said Joanna Linkchorst, president and co-founder of Friends of Rockhaven.
“It was so different than what was going on in the world at that time. Rockhaven provided an opportunity to get truly treated, not just drugged and locked away,” she said.
There’s a 1921 Gladding McBean statue called “Reclining Nude” in the middle of the Rockhaven property that’s become a mascot for the place. Linkchorst dubbed it “The Lady of Rockhaven."
During a 2015 tour of the property, Linkchorst described the statue:
"The way that she’s drinking in the sun and looking up and that beautiful faint smile gives you the feeling that you feel here: This is a place to relax and breathe and recover and become yourself again."
A safe place for Glinda — and Marilyn's mom
The groundbreaking approach to mental health care and the beautiful surroundings attracted Hollywood types. Billie Burke — who played Glinda the Good Witch in "The Wizard of Oz" — was once a resident. And then there was Gladys — Marilyn Monroe’s mom.
"Gladys felt the need to wander. She is our most infamous resident. And there were a couple of times that she attempted to escape," Linkchorst said. "She managed to get out a couple of times. One of them, she tied her bedsheets together and made a dramatic escape through a tiny window in her closet."
But most Rockhaven patients were in no hurry to leave. Some women stayed until their deaths, leaving behind their most treasured belongings. On the second floor of The Willows cottage, Linkchorst pointed out some of the forgotten items she’s hoping to archive: souvenir photos, fur coats, hatboxes full of cards.
Where things stand today
Linkchorst says progress has been slow. She said the city has been negligent in its duty to preserve the property, which includes several standalone cottages set among oak trees.
In one structure built in 1921 called The Coulter, Linkchorst said the ceiling is sagging and there is substantial water damage.
“There was so much water in this building at one time that there was condensation on the insides of the windows,” Linkchorst said.
The Friends of Rockhaven want the city to repair the roofs of the buildings on the property, which were hard hit during all the storms earlier this year. The group wants the city to address mold on the property, as well as other maintenance measures.
Linkchorst said the city’s efforts to put tarps on the roofs of the buildings to prevent further damage have been unsuccessful.
Glendale City Attorney Michael Garcia said in an email that the city was unable to provide comment at this time.
Linkchorst said her group felt compelled to file the suit.
“I feel like this is something that we sadly needed to do," she said, "and that it will finally start pushing things forward to make it so we will get the place open.”
Auf Wiedersehen, Alpine Village. Shop Owners Pack Up On Notice That Longtime German American Hub Is ClosingShop owners got 30-day notices to vacate this week but said the new owners reached out to extend that another 30 days. This comes after its weekly swap meet permanently shut down earlier this month.
A local history about the extraordinary lives of a generation of female daredevils.
And what it says about the 'Land Back' movement. “This is our one home. There is no other homeland or mother country. That means everything to us.”
In the past five years, women in L.A. and throughout California have started creating a new future for custom car culture.
We deliver to you the weirdest love story you've ever heard.
Baldwin Hills communities began with an Olympic village in 1932 and later became home to affluent Black families in L.A. It is now facing changing demographics and gentrification.