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A Look At Rockhaven Sanitarium

Generations of women enjoying tea

Glendale, California, is a land of fun, sun, diversity, and more. The area’s rich history covers much, from its older beginnings as part of the Rancho San Rafael to its eventual incorporation as the “town of Glendale” and beyond. There’s a lot to go over, which means it’s no surprise if there are some bits you might not be readily aware of (even if you are a longtime resident of the apartments for rent in Glendale, CA). In particular, we’re talking about the Rockhaven Sanitarium. America’s first feminist asylum:

“Founded in 1926, Rockhaven has several claims to fame, and one of the most unique is that it was America’s first woman-founded and woman-only humane health treatment facility for mild mental and nervous disorders.”

Believe it or not, such establishments were once a common sight. Few, however, had the very peculiar luster that Rockhaven did, and now, the once-famed psychiatric institution (and now historical district) faces an uncertain future. What will become of it? What was its claim to fame? Today, we’re going to dive into all things Rockhaven, giving you a peek inside what this facility was and what it very may well become.

What in the World is a Sanitarium?

Good question. The word isn’t one you hear too commonly in America nowadays, so you might not even realize how these old structures were used. The definition is actually quite simple:

“An establishment for the medical treatment of people who are convalescing or have a chronic illness.”

More specifically, though, they functioned as kinds of “health resorts,” where people could live peacefully and had ample access to food and clean water. In times past, options for curing certain diseases were quite limited, so these facilities served as a place where they could, at the least, have a measure of comfort.

And What of Rockhaven Sanitarium?

For those with a passing knowledge of sanitariums, the word conjures up imagery of inhumane treatment, born of squalid conditions and heartless staff members. There were no laws in the early 1900s protecting the rights of residents, and so, deplorable environments came to be the norm for some.

Not so of Rockhaven Sanitarium, or so the story goes:

“There were no cells at Rockhaven, no shackles, no manacles, no solitary confinement and no horrific abuse like what we’ve come to associate with the words “sanitarium” and “asylum” through media and pop culture.”

This was no accident, either. When it was founded in 1923 by Agnes Richards, Rockhaven’s purpose was to counteract the status quo and provide an alternative to the cruel asylums she had spent her previous years working in:

“Determined to create a kinder, gentler alternative to the abuses she had witnessed, Richards used a thousand dollars she’d saved to purchase a small found-rock cottage on a lush, tree-lined estate in an area that was then called Verdugo City.”

It was, by most accounts, pristine. Brightly colored and decked out with lush classical furniture created a sense of calm, more resort-like than similar institutions of the time. In a way, you could say Rockhaven possessed a woman’s subtle touch. It was a facility founded and run by women, after all, and, at the time, that was something sorely needed.

It’s unfortunate, but, at the time, women were institutionalized for the flimsiest of reasons. Some were simply alcoholics (for which there were no rehabilitation programs), some had simply run afoul of a vindictive husband or just seen as “out of line.” At any rate, they were condemned to subhuman treatment at asylums, and their conditions often worsened.

The treatment women received at Rockhaven, though, that of a more caring nature, more often saw their scenarios improve:

“They were encouraged to have daily visitors, and Rockhaven hosted a number of events over the course of the year in which family and friends were encouraged to visit, all of which are the very antithesis of treatment practices in that time.”

As a facility, Rockhaven was perhaps the first of its kind — and the last. When it was sold to a private hospital by Agnes Richards’ daughter in 2001, it was the final such institution in operation, and remained so until its eventual closure in 2006.

Now the site sits, owned by the City of Glendale. The vacant property houses not a soul, and while there was a push to have it listed in the National Register of Historic Places, that was not the only idea presented on what to do with the legendary building.

One proposal, which was put forth by a “selection committee,” recommended turning it into a 45-room hotel. As it wasn’t popular with residents, though, it was quickly scrapped. A 2016 report from Curbed stated that “The Glendale City Council has picked a developer to rework the former Rockhaven Sanitarium in La Crescenta into a boutique commercial center and park,” but since then, news on what will ultimately become of the area is sparse.

Regardless of what may come, what can’t be denied is the significant impact Rockhaven had throughout its day:

“Throughout its 80-plus years in operation, Rockhaven was known for providing respite amidst a landscape of struggle, both internal and external. Today it is heralded as America’s first feminist asylum.”

With any luck, its memory, and what it was able to provide for the women of its era, even beyond Glendale (into Hollywood and greater Los Angeles) will not be forgotten. Be sure to check out Jason House’s in-depth photo collection of the property after it was abandoned for a bit of a glimpse into its past.

Who Knew the Apartments for Rent in Glendale Were So Close to a Piece of History?

No worries if you weren’t aware. Details like Rockhaven are sometimes too easily overlooked. What’s not so easy to miss, however, is the amazing prestige of communities like Altana. This famed establishment, part of the pride of Downtown Glendale, is well-known for its opulence, and offers residents the finest in both its highly desirable location and contemporary building amenities. Come see what the hubbub is all about. Check out Altana and consider it your ticket to the high life in luxurious Glendale.