Rockhaven SanitariumOct 8th, 2013 | By Lindsay | Category: This and That
Back in early September, while doing research on filming locations in Montrose, I came across this 2011 Crescenta Valley Weekly article about a vacant former mental institution named Rockhaven Sanitarium. My interest was immediately piqued, of course (y’all know how much this stalker LOVES herself some abandoned properties), and I thought the site would fit in perfectly with my Haunted Hollywood postings – especially once I discovered that none other than Gladys Baker Eley, mother of Miss Marilyn Monroe, called the place home for almost a decade and a half. So I dragged the Grim Cheaper right on out to stalk it while the two of us were in L.A. last month.
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. Richards believed that beautiful surroundings were necessary to the healing process and Rockhaven was nothing if not idyllic.
As depicted in the documentary “Rockhaven: A Sanctuary from Glendale’s Past,” which won a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award, the sanitarium was not your typical mental health facility. Thanks to the fact that residents were taken on regular excursions, rooms were decorated by interior designers, holidays were celebrated, and patients allowed to wear their normal clothing, Rockhaven was a place where troubled souls could lead normal, even happy lives.
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. In a bit of a macabre twist, when Rockhaven was shuttered, for whatever reason, many patients’ belongings were left behind as if their owners were planning to return – clothes remained hanging in closets, greeting cards and flowers stood on shelves, and framed photos lingered on nightstands. When the city of Glendale purchased the site for $8.25 million in April 2008, they gathered together all of the lost belongings and put them into storage for safe keeping. 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. The future of Rockhaven is, sadly, now up in the air. In the meantime, the city, the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and the Friends of Rockhaven maintain and care for the location.
Due to its bucolic quality, several notables sought treatment at Rockhaven including Billie Burke (aka Glinda from The Wizard of Oz), bandleader Babe Egan, dancer Marion Rose, Broadway actress Peggy Fears, Clark Gable’s first wife, Josephine Dillon, and, as I mentioned earlier, Gladys Baker. (It has been said that actress Frances Farmer also spent some time at Rockhaven, but I believe that claim to be just a rumor.)
Gladys was admitted to Rockhaven Sanitarium on February 9, 1953. She remained there for the next 14 years, thanks to a $5,000-a-year trust fund that Marilyn had set up for her. During her tenure there, Gladys attempted suicide several times and even escaped from the facility in 1963, by tying bed sheets together, climbing out of an 18-inch closet window and scaling a fence. She then walked 15 miles to Lakeview Terrace Baptist Church in Pacoima, where she was found the following day. During yet another eventful escape, Gladys somehow or another got married!
In 1967, Gladys was released to her daughter Berniece Baker Miracle, Marilyn’s half-sister, who lived in Florida. She passed away in Gainesville 17 years later, on March 11, 1984, at the age of 81.
You can check out a video of Gladys taken during her later years by clicking below. It is absolutely eerie not only how closely she resembled her famous daughter, but also to catch a glimpse of what Marilyn would most likely have looked like as an elderly woman.
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Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: Rockhaven Sanitarium, the former home of Marilyn Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker, is located at 2713 Honolulu Avenue in Montrose.