Glendale Revives Hotel Plans for Rockhaven

After plans to develop the former Rockhaven Sanitarium into a park and boutique mall were scrapped earlier this year (see here), the City of Glendale are now reconsidering a proposal to turn the site into a hotel and community garden, as Lila Seidman reports for the Los Angeles Times. (Marilyn’s mother, Gladys Baker, was a resident at Rockhaven from 1953-67. You can read more about this pioneering women’s sanitarium here.)

“City officials are reconsidering an idea to turn the site of the former Rockhaven Sanitarium in north Glendale into a boutique hotel and community garden, voting this week to revive a proposal submitted by a developer nearly three years ago.

During a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Glendale City Council members supported entering into a six-month exclusive negotiating agreement with Avalon Investment Co. to fine-tune its vision for the property that originally opened in 1923 as a women’s mental-health facility.

It’s a departure from the present council’s decision in 2016 to work with Gangi Development and turn the property into a park and boutique commercial center. At the time, council members sidestepped a recommendation by the city staff to work with Avalon.

Friends of Rockhaven, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the property, supported Gangi’s proposal. During the meeting on Tuesday, Friends treasurer Jo Ann Stupakis said the nonprofit now supports Avalon’s proposal. ‘We have some new friends that have come to play,’ Stupakis said of Avalon. ‘They see [Rockhaven’s] beauty, her history, her potential.’

Friends president Joanna Linkchort said she still preferred a park, but felt Avalon’s managing partner, Weston Cookler, is working hard to tailor the hotel project’s design to the community’s needs. Councilman Vartan Gharpetian said he also preferred a park, but voted to go forward with the negotiating agreement, voicing his support as a ‘soft yes.’

‘The original plan didn’t really get it,’ Linkchort said during an interview after the meeting. ‘Now, talking to [Cookler], it seems like a much better fit.’

After hearing from several stakeholder groups, including local historical societies and business organizations, Cookler said his team is considering lowering the number of hotel rooms from 45 to 30. Members of the public, not just hotel guests, would be free to roam the grounds of the planned hotel, he added.

The sanatorium, founded by nurse Agnes Richards, was put on the state’s historical resource list in 2016 … As part of Avalon’s proposal, Rockhaven’s structures and grounds would be restored and preserved to a federal standard. The decision won the support of the Glendale and Crescenta Valley historical societies.”


Rockhaven’s Future at Risk as City Scraps Plans

The future of Rockhaven Sanitarium, formerly a pioneering clinic for women suffering from mental illness where Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived for 14 years, is once again in jeopardy, as Lila Seidman reports for the Los Angeles Times. (You can read my review of Elisa Jordan’s book about Rockhaven here.)

“Plans to turn the former Rockhaven Sanitarium in north Glendale into a park and boutique-commercial center have been scrapped, with city officials recently severing ties with the local developer heading up the project.

Following closed-session deliberations on Feb. 5, City Council members decided not to extend a contract with Gangi Development that was first initiated at the end of January 2017, city spokesman Dan Bell confirmed on Tuesday.

The council’s decision disheartened Matthew Gangi, the project’s principal lead, who said he still hasn’t given up on the vision the council approved in November 2016.

According to Matthew Gangi, the city had asked him and his family associates to personally guarantee yet-unspecified improvement requests to the site, which some family members would not do because they felt they were already offering substantial money and effort to improve the city-owned property, Gangi said.

Under the original proposal, businesses and nonprofits would have moved into the former sanitarium’s 14 buildings that Gangi Development had planned to rehabilitate.

Prospective tenants included a farm-to-table restaurant, a sustainable winery, a hatha yoga studio, creative lounge and native-plant-seed shop, Matthew Gangi said.

Remaining space on the property that’s been designated a historic district would have become a park, with a planned performance stage and several demonstration gardens, he added.

The roster of businesses was selected, in part, as an homage to the property’s original incarnation when it opened in 1923 as a progressive women’s mental-health facility, according to Matthew Gangi.

The Gangi project was supported by Friends of Rockhaven, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the property.

‘Naturally, we’re devastated,’ said Joanna Linkchorst, president of Friends of Rockhaven. ‘We’d hoped we had found the solution. We thought that finding someone who would [handle the project] privately, that the city would be willing to have a park there — a remarkable park.’

Speaking for the nonprofit, Linkchorst said the organization is convinced the city will now attempt to sell off the 3.5-acre property it purchased for $8.25 million in 2008.”

Petition Launched to Save Rockhaven

The campaign to save Rockhaven, the former sanatorium run by women for women, is continuing with the Friends of Rockhaven community group campaigning to have the building opened to the public. It is a site of architectural and historical note, and was an oasis of progressive healing for the mentally ill during a time of widespread ignorance and prejudice. Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived there for fourteen years, and it seems to have finally brought her some peace of mind after many unhappy years spent in and out of state asylums. Please sign the petition to save this Glendale landmark here.

Rehearsing ‘Marilyn!’ in Glendale

Kelley Jakle (MM) and Mark Hapka (Arthur Miller) in rehearsal for Marilyn!

Marilyn!, the new musical which receives its premiere at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California on July 29, is the subject of an article in the Glendale News-Press.

“Tegan Summer, an actor and producer, is a life-long classic film fan, who was intrigued by Marilyn Monroe, from her tragic upbringing to her enormous success in show business.

Summer acknowledged the numerous stories that have been told of Monroe in the past. ‘But this, we believe, is a story no one else has heard, so much so that we also tell the story in a unique way,’ he said.

In writing Marilyn! Summer noted that even at the height of her career, Monroe was severely depressed and longed to go back to being Norma Jean, to return to simpler times. ‘What a dichotomy. That was the theme during my musical. I wrote with it in mind to the extent that I actually split the actresses’ [performances],’ Summer said.

In the production, Kelley Dorney plays Norma Jean Baker, and Kelley Jakle, star of Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, plays Marilyn Monroe.

‘A lot of people think she was the movie star, but we don’t really focus on that side of her. All the things that are happening around her, that is the story we’re telling, and I think our version is extra special, because we look at (her) as Norma Jean and Marilyn, [both] happening at once,’ Dorney said.

The Alex Theatre is just the beginning for Marilyn! Prospect House Entertainment has plans in the works to take the musical to Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and China in the next year.

Summer also partnered with Hollygrove, Monroe’s former orphanage in Los Angeles. A portion of the proceeds from the musical will be donated to Hollygrove.”

‘Marilyn!’ Musical Preview in Glendale

As I have often observed on this blog, plays about Marilyn are becoming a staple of fringe drama. Few have managed to rise from obscurity, but MARILYN! – a new musical previewing for one night only at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California on July 29 – has impressive credentials, as Broadway World reports.

“The one-evening-only July 29 event, celebrates the life Marilyn Monroe with a short documentary film featuring Monroe’s former boyfriend Bill Pursel, Monroe’s Bus Stop co-star Don Murray, Monroe author, Michelle Morgan, President of ‘Marilyn Remembered’ Greg Schreiner, and Actors Studio classmate, James Karen, among other key figures.

Audience members will be treated to an exclusive collection of Monroe’s artifacts from Schreiner’s personal collection at a pre-show reception. But the highlight of the evening is the world premiere of the full length musical MARILYN!, which chronicles the star’s childhood and tumultuous path to stardom with stirring and emotional songs …

Prospect House Entertainment is also pleased to announce a collaboration with Hollygrove, formerly Los Angeles Orphan Home, where Marilyn Monroe stayed as a child. Hollygrove will receive a percentage of the event’s proceeds in perpetuity. MARILYN! additionally holds the distinction of being produced with the blessing of the Marilyn Monroe Estate.

MARILYN! Is set in the present day – Michelle is a young journalist from England researching Marilyn Monroe to commemorate the actress’ 90th birthday. She visits Charlie Page, one of Marilyn’s drivers, who is now living a life of solitude. Two stories emerge as Charlie bonds with Michelle he recalls Marilyn Monroe’s phenomenal life in flashback and reveals the real reason behind his living as a recluse for over forty years…

MARILYN! stars Kelley Jakle (Universal’s Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, Spring Awakening in Concert) as ‘Marilyn Monroe’; Kelley Dorney (PBS Concert Special: A Tale of Two Cities) as ‘Norma Jeane’; Samantha Stewart (CBS’ Days of Our Lives) as ‘Michelle Morgan’; and Marvin Gay as ‘Charlie Paige’.”

Rockhaven Sanitarium at Risk

Following the controversial demolition of the ‘Dougherty House‘ in June, Danny Jensen reports for LAist that another Marilyn-related location – the former Rockhaven Sanitarium, where her mother Gladys was a resident from 1953-67 – is also the focus of controversy.

“The future looks uncertain for L.A.’s oldest sanitarium, which was originally built as a humane mental health facility for women in Los Angeles county.

The Rockhaven Sanitarium in Montrose opened in 1923 as an alternative to the grim treatment offered to women in many mental institutions at the time. And now the group Friends of Rockhaven is hoping to save the historic site, after preservation plans by the city of Glendale fell apart and developers proposed other uses, according to the L.A. Weekly. Home for a time to some of Hollywood’s early notables—including Billie Burke who played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard Of Oz and Marilyn Monroe’s mother—the 3.5 acre property was nicknamed the Screen Actor’s Sanitarium. The mental health facility was first developed by early feminist Agnes Richards and features small cottages where residents lived.

Richards helped women escape from the cells of mental wards throughout California and across the country, offering Rockhaven as a refuge from places where they were commonly abused and mistreated. The aging property includes 15 buildings that are a mix of Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival styles, which feature names like the Rose Cottage and the Willows. The sanitarium was designed to be a serene, landscaped complex for healing, rather than an intimidating, American Horror Story-style institution. The interiors of the buildings have remained largely untouched for years.

In 2008, Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles, which had used the site for nursing care for the elderly since 2001. The city had hopes to develop Rockhaven into an historic park with a community center and library, but after the recession hit, the plans fell apart. When Glendale’s plans fell though, developers then set their sights on Rockhaven with a variety of plans that included home for female veterans, an all-girls’ school, and condos. But the city put the brakes on those plans when the Friends of Rockhaven argued that they would compromise the site’s historic architecture and legacy.

The Friends of Rockhaven has now organized as a nonprofit corporation is looking to raise money to turn the property into a publicly accessible park. They also hope to obtain California Historical Landmark status for the Sanitarium. But considering Glendale spends $50,000 a year to maintain the property, there are more than a few hurdles for the group to get past. The city also just agreed to let the Crescenta Valley Water District tap a well beneath the Sanitarium to provide water to about 1,200 homes in the area.”

 

In a related article for LA Weekly, Liana Aghajanian explores Rockhaven’s unique history.

“Beyond its ornate entry gate and picturesque transom windows sit the sanitarium’s largely untouched rooms — the walls of the dining room, sitting rooms and bedrooms still lined in peeling floral wallpaper, sofa sets neatly arranged, Murphy beds at the ready. Family photos lie on a table; a dressy coat hangs abandoned.

[Mike] Lawler, who was raised by a single mother and has four daughters, sees Rockhaven as a monument to women’s dignity, a mental health industry game-changer that must be saved.

He belongs to Friends of Rockhaven, whose president, Joanna Linkchorst, wants to ensure the site is preserved as a public space. Her love affair with the sanitarium began on her first visit.

The duo has led tours through the sanitarium, a sprawling and serene complex that housed around 125 residents at its peak and is, they say, one of the most endangered historic spaces in the Los Angeles area.

In a bid to save the facility, in 2008 Glendale bought the property for $8.25 million from Ararat Home of Los Angeles. But now, city officials sound almost tongue-twisted about its status.

‘We do not have the ability to go and either try to realize what was kind of nebulously described and envisioned for that site, but at the same time we can’t simply divest in the property because of the expectations of a number of the stakeholders have,’ says Glendale city manager Scott Ochoa. ‘So we’re in this position where we’re floating somewhere between the ceiling and the floor.’

Former Glendale city councilman John Drayman led the city effort to preserve Rockhaven as a historic park or library, saving it from demolition. But no funds were appropriated beyond the acquisition price, Ochoa says. After the recession, the idea of reviving the site fizzled, and so did Drayman’s influence — he was convicted last year of embezzlement, perjury and filing false tax returns.

‘Rockhaven lost all momentum,’ Ochoa says.

Linckhorst has joined forces with Lawler, former head of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley and author of Murder and Mayhem in the Crescenta Valley, and an expert on the stories of the region. Lawler says the sanitarium’s own story began in the 1920s when Richards came to the Crescenta Valley — then famed for having the healthiest air quality in the United States — with six patients and some chickens. Richards was bent on helping her charges escape cells in mental wards throughout California and the nation where women were commonly abused.

Rockhaven quickly earned the nickname the ‘Screen Actors Sanitarium’ thanks to its famous clientele such as Burke; Broadway actress Peggy Fears; Babe Egan (front woman of Babe Egan’s Hollywood Redheads); and Monroe’s mother, Gladys Pearl Baker, who slipped away from Rockhaven several times while Marilyn paid $250 a month for her care.

At the end of the 1920s, when Richards wanted to expand her sanitarium, she was met with opposition from the community. One resident accused Richards of being unfit to run it. The flinty nurse sued the resident in a $100,000 slander case and won, although she was granted just $500 in personal damages.

‘This land was purchased with the promise that it would be a park,’ Lawler says. ‘If [the city] won’t create a park there, like they said they would, then we’ll do it ourselves.’

But with Rockhaven owned by Glendale, which spends about $50,000 a year to maintain the site, a number of bureaucratic issues stand in the way, and it’s not clear what the group’s next move should be. For now, the city has agreed to give them time to look for independent funding.

‘We’re certainly aware that it’s there, and we’re trying to find solutions for it — it’s not something that anybody is going to forget about,’ says Glendale city council member Laura Friedman.

Rockhaven stands as a hopeful feminist symbol of humanity during inhumane times — one that may or may not survive the wrecking ball.”

 

Tales from Rockhaven, and Sister Aimee

Writing for the Glendale News-Press, Katherine Yamada looks at the stories of three famous women who stayed at Rockhaven Sanatarium, where Marilyn’s mother Gladys lived for fifteen years. Other patients include actresses Billie Burke, Frances Farmer, and Josephine Dillon – best-known as the first wife of Clark Gable. Yamada promises a future article about Gladys, and also mentions Aimee Semple McPherson, the woman rumoured to have baptised Norma Jeane.

Revisiting Rockhaven

Southern California-based readers may be interested to know that one of the least-known, and most poignant Marilyn-related sites will be opened to the public on Saturday, April 26, at 10 am. Rockhaven Sanitarium in Glendale was in its time one of the region’s most progressive, humane clinics for women, and Marilyn’s mentally ill mother, Gladys, lived in its beautiful surroundings for fifteen years.

“Founded in 1923, Rockhaven was one of many sanitariums in the Crescenta Valley. What made this business unique was Agnes Richards’ approach to treatment of mental issues by giving the patients dignified individualized care in a home-like setting. It was also run by women for women for 78 years. It began with 6 women and as the numbers grew she bought neighboring homes. Soon she built new buildings.”

Gladys Baker Eley, née Monroe (right) with her legal guardian, Inez Melson, at Rockhaven in 1963

This free tour has been organised by the Crescenta Valley Historical Society. Writing for Crescenta Valley Weekly in 2012, Robin Goldsworthy traced the history of Rockhaven, which closed its doors in 2001. Some of the buildings have since been sold off, but local residents have formed Friends of Rockhaven in the hope that this former sanctuary will be restored as a library or community centre.

“By far the most famous Rockhaven resident was Marilyn Monroe’s mother Gladys Baker Eley. Gladys’ relationship with her daughter was tumultuous, and undoubtedly had much to do with the instability of Monroe’s troubled life. Most likely insane, Baker put Monroe in various foster care situations, while she herself went in and out of young Marilyn’s life, spending much of her time in state mental hospitals. When the actress achieved fame, she finally faced the confusing relationship she had with her mother, and in 1952 she had her transferred from the cold Norwalk State Hospital to the more personal care of Rockhaven. Monroe’s death in 1962 rendered her mother even more unstable and several suicide attempts took place, along with several very well publicized escapes.

Gladys was a tiny woman and once managed to squeeze out of an 18-inch closet window in her room, climb the fence, and walk 15 miles to a church in Shadow Hills. Her room and that tiny closet window are still there. Monroe’s estate after her death was entirely eaten up by unpaid taxes and creditors, leaving nothing for the care of Gladys Baker. Rockhaven, to its credit, kept Baker on gratis until 1967, when her other daughter took her in.”

If you would like to participate, please email in advance: friendsofrockhaven@gmail.com