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Sanitarium holds history in arrested decay

Redevelopment of Rockhaven stalled after the city bought the property in 2008.

November 29, 2013|By Agnessa Kasumyan
  • Rockhaven Sanitarium, at 2713 Honolulu Ave. in Montrose on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013.
Rockhaven Sanitarium, at 2713 Honolulu Ave. in Montrose… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

After Billie Burke, best known for her portrayal of Glinda the Good Witch in the 1939 version of “The Wizard of Oz," left the Emerald City, she found herself past the yellow brick road of Hollywood and behind the gates of the Rockhaven Sanitarium in Glendale.

Located on Honolulu Avenue, the sanitarium stands as a treasured site of historic Glendale, an intimate and aging symbol of a time when the valley was dispersed with resting and recovery homes due to its clean air quality.

Patricia Traviss, the granddaughter of Rockhaven’s founder, Agnes Mary Richards, sold the site in 2001 to the Ararat Home of Los Angeles, Inc., which provides nursing homes and care for elderly Armenians in Southern California.

When the company sought to sell the establishment in 2006, the city purchased it in 2008 for $8.25 million.

At the time of the purchase, the city’s plans included turning Rockhaven into a community center that included a park and a library; however, lack of budgeting has stalled further development of the site.

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Jess Duran, director of community services and parks, says he “wouldn’t even begin to guess” how much funding restoration and development would require, but maintaining the grounds costs $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

When Richards originally opened the sanitarium in 1923, she created a refuge for mentally ill women during a time when such conditions — including less severe forms — were regarded with considerable taboo.

After serving as a nurse for the American Red Cross during World War I, Richards moved to California and began working for Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino.

Troubled by the way mentally ill women were treated in both San Bernardino and Los Angeles, Richards strove to launch an establishment that would “provide respectful care and allow women to recover,” according to Joanna Linkchorst, head of the Friends of Rockhaven.

“It was really easy to throw women, in particular, into mental hospitals, where they were drugged and just locked away,” Linkchorst said.

At the time Rockhaven was opened, there were about 25 sanitariums in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, according to Linkchorst. Though most of them were respiratory homes, Richards founded Rockhaven for “mild mental disorders” and only female inhabitants were allowed.

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