January 2014 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

Visit our Explore Historic California site on Facebook



Cerro Gordo is



The town is open during daylight hours, road and weather conditions permitting.


Please contact owner Sean Patterson (661-303-3692) or Robert at Cerro Gordo for information and current road conditions:

(760) 876-5030


(909 856-4434


Contact us through email at:


Friends of

Cerro Gordo

The Friends of Cerro Gordo is a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation established to assist in the preservation, interpretation and public enjoyment of Cerro Gordo.

Help support these efforts by becoming a member.

First year membership (though December 2014) is only $10.

Click here  or the F.O.C.G. logo above to download a membership  brochure.

Now Available

Cerro Gordo

A Ghost Town

Caught Between


Cecile Page Vargo's collection of Cerro Gordo stories, true, farce and somewhere in between, is being published in a new book, Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries.

ISBN: 978-0970025869

The book gives glimpses of Cerro Gordo from the silver and lead mining days through the early twentieth century zinc era to its modern place as, according to author Phil Varney, "Southern California's best, true, ghost town." There's even a possible solution to the location of the fabled "Lost Gunsight Mine" that former Cerro Gordo owner Mike Patterson once suggested.

We are proud to team with the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) in Ridgecrest, Calif., to bring Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries to print. This is their first major publishing venture. The book is  available for sale directly from HSUMD or through selected book sellers.

Contact HSUMD directly to order:

P.O. Box 2001, Ridgecrest, CA. 93556-2001.

Phone: 760 375-8456

Email: hsumd@ridgenet.net

Announcing our Arcadia Publishing Book:



Cerro Gordo

by Cecile Page Vargo and Roger W. Vargo

ISBN: 9780738595207

Arcadia Publishing Images of America series

Price: $21.99

128 pages/ softcover

Available now!

(Click the cover image for ordering information)

Available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888)-313-2665 or online.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you

Friends of Last Chance Canyon is a new organization interested in sustaining and protecting areas within the El Paso Mountains, near Ridgecrest, California. The main focus is preserving and protecting historic sites like Burro Schmidt's tunnel and the Walt Bickel Camp.

Please click on either logo to visit the FLCC site.

We support

Bodie Foundation
"Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past


Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.


The Panamint Breeze is a newsletter for people who love the rough and rugged deserts and mountains of California and beyond.

Published by Ruth and Emmett Harder, it is for people who are interested in the history of mining in the western states; and the people who had the fortitude to withstand the harsh elements.

It contains stories of the past and the present; stories of mining towns and the colorful residents who lived in them; and of present day adventurers.

Subscriptions are $20 per year (published quarterly – March, June, September & December) Subscriptions outside the USA are $25 per year. All previous issues are available. Gift certificates are available also.

To subscribe mail check (made payable to Real Adventure Publishing) along with name, address, phone number & e-mail address to:  Real Adventure Publishing, 18201 Muriel Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92407.

For more information about the Panamint Breeze e-mail Ruth at:  echco@msn.com

It's always FIRE SEASON! Click the NIFC logo above to see what's burning.

Visit Michael Piatt's site, www.bodiehistory.com, for the truth behind some of Bodie's myths.

Credo Quia Absurdum




Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway.

     Click your mouse through the website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them.



Historic Rockhaven Sanitarium

Restful Retreat For Emotionally Disturbed Women

By Cecile Page Vargo

As a child of the 1950’s and 1960’s growing up in the Crescenta Valley, the thickly landscaped 3.5 acres of Rockhaven Sanitarium behind the iron gates at 2713 Honolulu Avenue was the source of mystique and scuttlebutt. Once my friends and I were old enough to walk from our family homes to the town of Montrose to hang out in the days before the Glendale Galleria and Americana, we would pass by the compound with butterflies in our stomachs full of anticipation and a bit of fear. Rumor had it this was the “crazy house” or the “loony bin” and Marilyn Monroe’s mother was supposedly one of the “inmates”. We would hurry past the walls that surrounded the property talking in whispers, then pause ever so briefly as we reached the presumably locked entrance gates to take a quick peek for a glimpse of the secrets it held. Unable to see more than the greenery, we would take off in a run, panting in fear that one of the institutionalized had spotted us and would try to get us.

In truth, Rockhaven was so much more than the “nut house” young locals thought it was. Located twelve miles north of Los Angeles and approximately six miles north of Glendale, the sanitarium was created by a woman named Agnes Richards as a secluded sanctuary for rehabilitation of women suffering from “overwork and exhaustion”.  A brochure described it as a sanitarium designed for treatment of “nervous and mental cases” with electroshock therapy (common mid-century mental illness treatment) hydrotherapy and massages. Patients were women only, married or widowed, ages 20-80 from all over the world. They lived in varying degrees of care in home-like cottages and were referred to as residents by the doctors, nurses, aids, and staff that tended to them and the grounds.

Rockhaven was a restful retreat for upscale women run by women…and indeed, at one time was referred to as the Screen Actor’s Sanitarium providing care for many celebrities or their relatives in need of treatment and relaxation in a kind and nurturing atmosphere, with beautiful garden retreat surroundings.

The communities in the Crescenta Valley between the Verdugo Hills and the San Gabriel Mountains north of the City of Los Angeles attracted early twentieth century health seekers to its clean air, drinking water, and mountainous view. By 1928 25 sanitariums for lung ailment suffers had cropped up. Dr. Benjamin Briggs was the first to come to the area from Pickens Canyon west to the neighboring community of Tujunga and chose to build a sanitarium for tuberculosis, asthma, and other respiratory diseases.  The name Crescenta Valley was chosen by him. He divided the land into ten acre lots and the communities we know today grew around it. The sanitarium he built and the others that  followed were well known throughout the United States. The local La Crescenta Chamber of Commerce touted their community as “the most healthful place on earth” promoting “health, Wealth, Happiness, Beauty, and Sunshine”.

Out of the 25 sanitariums nestled in the little Crescenta Valley, Rockhaven and Kimball Sanitariums sprouted up as mental health institutions. Kimball Sanitarium, founded by Merrit Kimball, was  located in an 1880’s Victorian Cottage on Michigan Avenue (now known as Foothill Boulevard). Kimball opened up after Rockhaven, and catered to both men and women. Both sanitariums were unique in taking care of patients with needs other than just respiratory ailments.

 Perhaps Agnes Richards read the brochures touting the wonderful benefits of the pure air in the foothills of the San Gabriels. Born in Nebraska in 1863, Agnes spent her youth in Europe, then came back to America to attend and graduate from Chicago’s Cook Count Hospital. During World War I she worked for the American Red Cross in France. When she returned to America she came to Southern California, working at Patton State Hospital and Los Angeles County General Hospital. The conditions of the state run mental institutions and their treatment of female patients appalled her. By 1923 Richards had discovered the Crescenta Valley and invested her meager budget of $1,000 in one of the first private mental health institutions in California. The plentiful sunlight and beautiful mountain setting high above the fog line appealed to her. The name Rockhaven came from the two story “rockhouse” building she rented in nearby Verdugo City. The abundance of sunlight and neighboring hills above the fog line appealed to her.  Administrative offices and six patients were soon housed on the acreage she had purchased.

Craftsman style houses on the property were put to use as living quarters and given names, The Canary (1929 construction), the Rose (1921) and the Coulter (1921) were used as residences for the women patients. The Nurses Home (1928) was constructed for night nurses and Acorn Cottage (1931) housed other employees.  Porch additions, garage conversions were added over the years. Richards built additional residences known as the Annex Building (1929, also known as Elms Cottage in later years), the Pines Cottage (1931), and  the Willows Cottage (1938). The Rose, Coulter, Canary, Pines and Willows were for women who lived at Rockhaven permanently. The Annex was fully a fully staffed building for patients requiring “more than average supervision and care”. Oaks Cottage took care of the needs of those who required “complete rest” or electroshock treatments”. Only ambulatory patients with mental illnesses were admitted to Rockhaven, but as needs changed for those patients over the years the Little Hospital was built in 1929 and became known as the Dorms, providing complete hospital care.  

By 1930, 44 female residents were recorded in the United States census. By the 1950’s, one hundred patients were attended by 14 nurses and 14 nurses aids. Well known local doctors cam in to attend to private cases. Cottages had between four and ten bedrooms, depending upon size, with both single and double occupancy. Living rooms, seating, curtains and pictures and decorations provided a stylish home atmosphere.  A library, pianos, and games from cards to badminton were provided and encouraged. As television became popular it was introduced as well. A dining hall was located at the center of the complex where three meals a day were served. A kitchen and a large pantry were included. The Garage next to the Rockhouse was built in 1939 with laundry addition in 1940. Adjacent to the Nurses Home, shop and garden were converted from a garage, for storage of maintenance and garden supplies. The 1930’s census showed a cook, an assistant cook, waitress, three nurses, a laundress, two gardeners and two helpers working on the premises.

The grounds of Rockhaven were carefully landscaped with attention to views from cottage windows and indoor and outdoor porches and patios to enjoy them from. Fountains and statuary were placed along well planted walkways creating a tranquil atmosphere which aided in the healing of the women who called the sanitarium their home. The park like gardens were so well cared for an award was received from Los Angeles Beautiful in 1966. 

The year was 1952, and Marilyn Monroe’s mother was in need of mental health care.  Peaceful and secluded Rockhaven was chosen as her residence up until 1966, as it was for many in or related to the Hollywood industry not too far away.  Gladys Pearl Eley was perhaps the most well known resident, making headlines not only because of her daughter, Marilyn,, but also for  her constant attempts to escape from the sanitarium and failures at suicide. The year 1963, following Monroe’s tragic death, Gladys not only managed to climb out her window, she succeeded in leaving the facility altogether and walking 15 miles to Lake View Terrace Baptist Church. Gladys Eley lived in one of the nicest cottages on the premises with the best of car, until the funding provided in her daughter’s will began to run out. The staff at Rockhaven couldn’t evict, but downgrade her to a lesser room and allowed her to remain until the family decided to place her elsewhere.

Other notable residence of Rockhaven, were Billie Burke, better known as Glenda the Good Witch from TheWizard of Oz, and Clark Gable’s first wife Josephine Dillon. Entertainer Spike Jones, whose family owned a small popular local market less than a mile from the sanitarium chose the facility for his mother Ada Jones as well. As an upscale facility, dubbed the Screen Actor’s Sanitarium, it can be assumed there were other celebrities there as well,  but privacy laws in place during the time period, have made it harder for those names to be discovered.

Agnes Richards dedicated her life to Rockhaven and the Crescenta Valley community. Residents considered her a leader, “always ready to lend her aid in promoting the welfare of the community, from being a bank director, to that of offering substantial encouragement to the sick and needy. By the early 1950’s, the aging nurse found the duties difficult and granddaughter, Patricia Traviss took over. Richards retired to travel the world, but still managed to continue in some capacity until months before her death in 1967 at the age of 84.

By 1970, Rockhaven held geriatric women patients or residents only. Patricia Traviss served as director until 2001. The women enjoyed innumerable events to keep them entertained. The award winning landscaper Ivan Cole headed a Garden Club, dietician led cooking classes were available, and event such as an Easter Hat parade, and Mother’sDay fashion shows were held. In 1987 another award for beautiful gardens was received for buildings and landscaping from Glendale beautiful. Patricia continued her grandmother’s tradition in this form into the new millennium. In 2001 she sold the property to Ararat Home of Los Angeles. By 2009 the facility was closed and purchased by the City of Glendale. Today, still in the hands of the City of Glendale, The Historical Society of Crescenta Valley and the Friends of Rockhaven keep it’s history alive, and are allowed to do building and garden clean-ups and occasional guided tours.  The future of Rockhaven remains in the hands of the City of Glendale, but through these organizations there is hope that the it will be preserved and continue on for public enjoyment and in memory of Agnes Richards, Patricia Traviss, and their staff, and the women they treated with dignity during mentally difficult times of their lives.


 ROCKHAVEN SANITARIUM Historic Resource and Conditions Assessment - DRAFT

Prepared for The City of Glendale; prepared by Architectural Resources Group, Inc., Pasadena, California

July 2009



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