A Haven for Children in L.A. Closes After 125 Years

Los angeles orphans home

Marilyn Monroe spent some of her biggest Hollywood nights in her safe embrace. so did about 20,000 other people.

Now, however, the last young resident has packed up and moved on. The original Los Angeles orphanage is closing its cabin doors after 125 years of housing children whose families have nearly given up on them.

Without fanfare, the venerable, privately run Hollygrove Residential Treatment Center for Children has closed. is a victim of a changing philosophy about treating abused, addicted, or neglected youth.

Orphanages have gone out of fashion in Los Angeles and across the United States as social service organizations work to move children from group facilities to foster homes or to the homes of extended family members or friends of the family.

In the mid-1990s, more than 3,500 children lived in group facilities in Los Angeles County. About 340 remain. That number is steadily dwindling as children are placed with relatives or friends. at least 70 group homes across the county have closed in the past decade.

“We don’t believe that children ages 6 to 12 should be in institutional care,” said Lisa Parrish, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

But some Hollygrove supporters say the quiet closure marks an inglorious end to a community service that began when two women commandeered a horse and carriage to rescue abandoned children from the dusty streets of 19th-century Los Angeles.

“Oh my god… it’s so sad. it was a wonderful, wonderful place,” said signe van hoeven, a 100-year-old rialto resident who lived in hollygrove for six years, from 1915 to 1921. she fondly remembers the names of the midwives and home teachers who cared for her.


Founded in 1880 as the Los Angeles Orphans’ Home Society, the children’s shelter was located in what is now Chinatown before it moved to Hollywood. Marilyn Monroe would eventually become his most famous student.

norma jean baker was 9 years old in 1935 when an aunt took her to the orphanage. She lived in an all-girls dormitory whose windows faced Paramount Studios and framed her iconic water tower.

“There are probably 40 books that tell about her time here, and each one has a different story,” said Judith Nelson, Hollygrove president and CEO. “A book says that she cleaned 100 toilets here. of course there have never been 100 toilets here to clean.”

Monroe’s mother was mentally ill and couldn’t care for her. “She was like a lot of kids here at the time. they didn’t want to be called orphans because they really weren’t.”

hollygrove had begun to become a haven for children whose parents were alive but unable to care for them. So her name was changed in 1957 to Hollygrove Home for Children, much to the relief of Monroe, who made three return visits in the 1950s. She signed the guest book “Norma Jean Baker” on her first trip, but used her name work for the other two, Nelson said.

A museum down the hall showcases Monroe’s stay and the orphanage’s long history. It begins with the roundup of the so-called “street kids” by Mrs. dan stephens and mrs. frank gibson – how women were identified in the custom of the time.

“In the beginning, most of the children who came to live here did not have parents. their parents could have died from disease,” said nelson.

The hallway timeline includes photographs from the early 1880s showing young black and brown faces along with white ones. A series of photos show open Hollywood farmland shortly after it was donated to the orphanage in 1910 by a man identified in the exhibit as Sen. Cornelius Cole. eventually, the state provided some money for the orphans.

However, a Los Angeles Times report published in 1908 identified the donor of the land as Charles M. stinson. the newspaper reported that the parcel, then totaling five acres, was valued at $15,000.

“There is a great opportunity to develop them into good men and women,” Stinson said of the orphans. “Many of the poor little friends have never had a good home or known parental care.”

during the 1950s, hollygrove was known for its annual “stock the pantry” food drives.

in recent years, fundraising has become more organized. private donations have accounted for 20-25% of hollygrove’s annual operating budget of about $11.5 million. the rest came from the county departments of children and family services and mental health, nelson said.

hollygrove today retains the vintage look of its marilyn monroe days. it covers a city block near vine street and melrose avenue, a group of “cottages” where the children lived, along with a cafeteria, diner, library, administration building, playground, and swimming pool. it sits one block west of paramount studios, and the paramount water tower still looms over the grounds.

Over the past decade, the majority of Hollygrove’s young residents, ranging in age from 6 to 12, were victims of abuse who had moved in and out of foster homes before county authorities placed them in group homes . there are few children now who do not have at least one relative who is suitable to foster them.

Martine Singer, Hollygrove’s director of operations, said Los Angeles County began to phase out the use of group homes for young children in 2003, when more effort was made to reunite young people with distant relatives. The county has placed all but 10 of Hollygrove’s youth in private homes, with members of their extended families or family friends. the remaining children have been reassigned to other group homes.

the last child to leave, a 9-year-old sent to live in texas with his recently located father, moved out in september. 2.

Nearly two-thirds of Hollygrove’s 205 staff, who cared for 68 pre-teen residents, have been laid off.

Parrish, the county children’s services officer, said the dispersal of the Hollygrove youth “was very traumatic” for some of them, but he said it was ultimately for the best.

Hollygrove officials are now working to salvage the remains of their treatment program and preserve the center’s former home.

Nelson and the singer said Hollygrove plans to merge on April 1 with a company based in the Bay Area city of Campbell. details of the merger with emq children & family services are still being worked out. that agency serves about 5,600 children in northern california.

darrell evora, president of emq, said there were no plans to redevelop the valuable 3 1/2 acre hollygrove site.

The singer said the preservation of Hollywood property has been an important issue for her organization. “We are the only green space for miles,” Ella Nelson added.

For now, a two-week “Camp Hollygrove” child care program for Hollywood-area children as well as youth in foster care is being planned for this week and next. Nelson said the potential for a charter school on the Hollygrove grounds is also being explored, and grants were secured late last week to start an after-school program there.

Nelson acknowledged that the closure of the 125-year-old residential program has left many supporters “shocked and angry.”

in a letter to financial donors and other patrons, he urged them to continue to support hollygrove with cash, gifts and volunteer work.

“Although there are many changes, the Hollygrove name and mission of serving abused, neglected and seriously emotionally disturbed children remain,” said Nelson.

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