Rockhaven, Home to Marilyn’s Mother, is Saved

After years of campaigning, Rockhaven – the former women’s sanatarium in Glendale, California, where Marilyn’s mother lived for more than a decade – will be repurposed as a museum, as Robert Garrova reports for LAist.

“Founded in the 1920s by psychiatric nurse Agnes Richards, Rockhaven was a mental health facility run by women, for women. Richards was also a pioneer of compassionate mental health care.

Joanna Linkchorst, founding member of Friends of Rockhaven, said her ‘head and heart exploded’ on learning that the state will pay to create the museum. She’s been fighting for nearly a decade to ensure that the site — and Richards’ legacy — are preserved.

Now, Linkchorst says there’s a lot of work to be done imagining what a museum will look like on the 3.5-acre property … There’s a 1921 Gladding McBean statue called ‘Reclining Nude’ in the middle of the Rockhaven property that’s become a mascot for the place. Linkchorst dubbed it ‘The Lady of Rockhaven.’

The groundbreaking approach to mental health care and the beautiful surroundings attracted Hollywood types. Billie Burke — who played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz — was once a resident. And then there was Gladys — Marilyn Monroe’s mom.

‘Gladys felt the need to wander. She is our most infamous resident. And there were a couple of times that she attempted to escape,’ Linkchorst said. ‘She managed to get out a couple of times. One of them, she tied her bedsheets together and made a dramatic escape through a tiny window in her closet.’

But most Rockhaven patients were in no hurry to leave. Some women stayed until their deaths, leaving behind their most treasured belongings … Linkchorst pointed out some of the forgotten items she’s hoping to archive: souvenir photos, fur coats, hatboxes full of cards.

The one-time appropriation of $8 million from the 2021-22 state budget will allow for the creation of the Rockhaven Mental Health History Museum.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge), who proposed the funding, said in a press release: ‘Converting the Rockhaven grounds into a museum dedicated to the legacy of Agnes Richards, women’s history, and telling the story of compassionate care for women with mental health challenges ensures that we honor the historical significance of this site and the legacy of those who created it.'”

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Rockhaven, historian Elisa Jordan (of LA Woman Tours) has written a wonderful book on the subject – you can read my review here.