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Glendale’s Rockhaven Sanitarium could be turned into a boutique hotel

The city of Glendale held a tour of Rockhaven for prospective developers, on Honolulu Ave. in Montro
Rockhaven’s future has been uncertain for more than a decade. The latest vision for the former sanitarium in north Glendale is to turn it into a 30-room hotel.
(Raul Roa / Glendale News-Press)

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.

“We’re just giving Avalon the chance [to revisit site and economic conditions] and come back to us with something that hopefully we can be excited about, that the community can also be excited about,” said Mayor Ara Najarian, who was a member of City Council when the city bought the property at 2713 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, in 2008.

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.

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This past February, the park plan was scrapped, following a council decision behind closed doors to sever ties with Gangi.

“We showed them it could work. It just seems like they have other plans,” said Matthew Gangi, the project’s principal lead, at the time.

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.

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“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.

Considered by some to be ahead of its time, the former facility is often associated with its celebrity clientele, including Marilyn Monroe’s mother, Gladys Eley, and Billie Burke, who played the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz.”

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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.

Glendale City Council members will be able to decide whether or not to go forward with the project once a revised proposal is drafted, according to Darlene Sanchez, Glendale’s assistant director of community development.

“What the city gets from this is time — we get time to figure out if this is a mutually beneficial deal,” Sanchez said. The negotiating agreement can be extended for six months.

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