A Tour of Rockhaven SanitariumNov 5th, 2014 | By Lindsay | Category: This and That
Well, here it is – my final Haunted Hollywood post of 2014. Sad day! Last September, I stalked an abandoned mental health institution named Rockhaven Sanitarium where Marilyn Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker Eley, spent almost a decade and a half of her life. Due to the fact that the place was gated and boarded up, I only got to see the outside of it, though. So when Friends of Rockhaven contacted me last month to ask if I wanted to attend a tour of the property, I jumped at the chance! And what better time to do it than the day after Halloween?
I covered Rockhaven’s history extensively in my post about the place last October, so I will just give you the CliffsNotes version here. The sanitarium was founded in 1923 by a nurse named Agnes Richards. Agnes wanted to create a home-like sanctuary to treat women suffering from mental illness and found the perfect spot to start it in Montrose. She leased a two-story residence with a stone edifice and dubbed it “Rockhaven.” (Sadly, that original building was damaged in the Sylmar earthquake and was replaced by the one-story Spanish Colonial Revival-style structure pictured below in 1972.) Agnes originally took in 6 patients, but by the next year that number had grown to 24.
As her patient list grew, Agnes began to purchase neighboring dwellings and to construct new buildings on adjacent plots of vacant land. By 1940, the expanded 3.3-acre site was comprised of 15 structures, with facilities to treat over 100 patients, a small hospital, a dining hall and a professional kitchen.
Agnes believed that idyllic surroundings would aid in her patients’ healing processes, so she made sure that Rockhaven’s grounds, which boasted gardens, trees, ponds, fountains, flowerbeds, patios, and walkways, were meticulously landscaped.
Even today, after sitting vacant for eight years, the place still shows shades of its former tranquility and beauty.
Upon Agnes’ retirement in 1956, her granddaughter, Patricia Traviss, took over operation of the site. When Patricia subsequently retired in 2001, Rockhaven was purchased by the Ararat Home of Los Angeles and was transformed into a nursing home. Ararat found the property too difficult and expensive to maintain, though, so it was shuttered in 2006 and has been left vacant ever since. In April 2008, the city of Glendale purchased Rockhaven and there were plans to turn the site into a community center and public park, but as funds dried up, so did the plans. The facility’s fate is currently up in the air. Thankfully, the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and Friends of Rockhaven stepped in to care for the place. Friends of Rockhaven also conducts monthly tours of the premises, which is what the Grim Cheaper and I embarked upon this past Saturday.
The tour, which lasted 90 minutes and consisted of about 25 people, was everything that I hoped it would be – and more! Our group got to walk through every square inch of the property – even through indoor areas, which I absolutely loved.
And yes, due to the peeling paint and stillness of the place, being there was definitely spooky, even in broad daylight.
When Rockhaven was shuttered in 2006, its buildings were left furnished. Seeing them in such a state was absolutely eerie.
Many patients’ belongings were also left behind. Clothes were still reportedly hanging in closets and framed photographs arranged on nightstands. When Glendale purchased the site, city workers put the mementos in storage, but Friends of Rockhaven retrieved several items to display, which made the experience of being there all the more creepy. Patients’ rooms appear to be frozen in time, still awaiting the return of their occupants eight years later.
Seeing notes to the Ararat staff still taped to the walls was particularly eerie . . .
as was seeing the former patients’ names written on closet shelves . . .
. . . and on beds.
During its Rockhaven days, Agnes had all of the patients’ rooms decorated by interior designers and many of those embellishments are still in place today, such as the curtain valances and colorful wallpaper border pictured below.
The bathrooms, which were all extensively wallpapered, were particularly enthralling.
Some areas of the property are still set up as they were when Ararat was operational, such as the hospital . . .
. . . while others are now used as storage for the various equipment that was left behind.
During the tour, we were also shown a dilapidated porch;
Murphy beds still in working condition;
eerily quiet hallways;
and the commercial kitchen . . .
. . . with its humongous walk-in refrigerator . . .
. . . and stove, which was in desperate need of a good scouring.
I was most excited to see The Pines building, though, where Gladys lived during her time at Rockhaven.
Gladys, who suffered from mental illness her whole life, was admitted to Rockhaven Sanitarium on February 9th, 1953. Marilyn paid the tab with a $5,000-a-year trust fund she set up in her mother’s name. And yes, the starlet would often come to Rockhaven to visit Gladys. (Pictured below is the hallway leading from the front door into The Pines building.)
The Pines’ green-hued common area is pictured below.
Gladys’ former room is located in the northeast corner of the building.
During her stay at Rockhaven, Gladys escaped from the facility numerous times. In 1963, she tied bed sheets together and climbed out of the 18-inch closet window pictured below. She then scaled a fence and walked 15 miles to Lakeview Terrace Baptist Church in Pacoima, where she was found the following day.
Our tour guides were very accommodating and allowed me to pose for a photograph in front of Gladys’ escape window. In a bit of an eerie twist, when the GC originally snapped my picture, he checked it and said it turned out fine. It was not until we left The Pines building that he looked at it once again and noticed that it had become mysteriously dark. Maybe Gladys did not appreciate the fact that I was photographing her closet!
Our guides found the whole thing very amusing and kindly took me back inside to pose for a second picture.
While in the closet, I noticed what appeared to be handprints leading up to the window and on most of the walls. SPOOKY!
Gladys was released from Rockhaven in 1967 and went to live with her daughter Berniece Baker Miracle, Marilyn’s half-sister, in Florida. She passed away in Gainesville 17 years later, on March 11, 1984, at the age of 81.
The guides also shared some tales of mysterious happenings at Rockhaven. The piano pictured below apparently moves to various locations on the property of its own accord. In fact, when one of the docents opened the garage during the tour, he was shocked to see that the piano was standing in the middle of the room.
Apparently, the previous evening it had been stationed against a wall, barricaded by three very heavy pots, which had also since been moved. The guides reported that most of the ghosts people have witnessed on the property appeared to be happy ones, though – spirits who obviously enjoyed their time at Rockhaven and want to remain there in the afterlife.
All in all, the tour was a fabulous experience and I could not recommend it more. You can find out information about Friends of Rockhaven’s monthly tours here.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: Rockhaven Sanitarium is located at 2713 Honolulu Avenue in Montrose. You can find out more information about Friends of Rockhaven’s monthly tours here.