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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.
To house the growing number of residents, Richards began purchasing neighboring homes, as well as constructing new buildings on adjacent vacant land. She also eventually bought the original stone dwelling. 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.
As Richards began to gradually withdraw from running Rockhaven in 1956, her granddaughter, Patricia Traviss, took over daily operations. Patricia continued to run the facility until 2001, when she retired and sold it to the Ararat Home of Los Angeles. Ararat transformed the property into a nursing home, but, claiming it was too difficult to maintain, wound up closing its doors in 2006. The city of Glendale purchased the site for $8.25 million in April 2008. 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.
In 2014 the City of Glendale began talking with contractors to allow them to build on the undeveloped property and make the existing buildings, built between 1920-1939, into some form of adaptive reuse. The community is working to protect the property and get it opened as an historic park.