February 23, 2013

Photo Essay: Rockhaven Sanitarium, Closed to Public, Interior

[Last updated 10/13/20 12:50 PM PT—video added at bottom of post]

I grew up with a profoundly mentally disturbed mother.

We spent a lot of time as young kids, squirming in the waiting room of her psychiatrist's office while she tried to hash out the details of her own childhood. As I look back, I think she should have been hospitalized, or, at times, committed to some kind of facility. With constant threats of suicide - specifically, drowning herself in the bathtub - she was a danger to herself and, as we found out, to both of her children.

I'm surprised we made it out of there alive.

But all the while, she refused to admit her own craziness, and instead turned the diagnosis back on us, sending me to a psychiatrist of my own as early as the age of three, and refusing any sessions that my multiple therapists asked her to attend.

Even when her own brother, to whom she always seemed somewhat unnaturally attached, died in a hospital, strapped to a bed, under the grip of schizophrenia, she didn't seem particularly alarmed.

Meanwhile, I questioned my genetic mental legacy, and wondered what synapse-firing fate would befall me as I grew older.

Outside a place like Rockhaven Sanitarium, the last standing sanctuary for the mentally ill in the Crescenta Valley just outside Los Angeles, it doesn't seem like such a bad place, if one is to be sent away.

But upon entering the hallways which once housed facilities for electroshock therapy, water therapy, and massage therapy...

...I became emotionally distraught.

There are no existing signs of such medieval torture therapies...

...especially since the sanitarium only just closed about seven years ago...

...and had been operating as a modern facility, mostly for the elderly and demented in its latter days.

But the decor and the equipment had probably not been changed or upgraded in decades, as evidenced by mysterious stains on the carpet...

...the shadows which nearly engulfed the light eeking through the curtains...

...and the tiny closet windows, which provided a potential escape route to captive patients like Marilyn Monroe's mother.

The vacant rooms are surprisingly undisturbed, with some personal effects carefully placed...

...but the hallways are empty.

Many of the rooms are not.

They smell of age, loneliness and abandonment.

The energy is not one of convalescence...

...but of deterioration.

Once you arrived at Rockhaven Sanitarium, it was unlikely you would ever leave.

And while some might complain about being "on the outside looking in," these patients were permanently on the inside looking out...

...watching life pass them by...

...unless someone came to visit.

Termites have now gotten to many of the windows, some of which are covered, their glass cracked.

The old, walk-in refrigerator holds no cold food...

...nor any kitchen personnel.

The burners do no cooking.

And, except on rare occasion...

...nobody ever comes in to visit anymore.



  1. The one word that came to mind when reading your words and seeing these photos was despair.