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

Hollygrove home, where Marilyn Monroe once lived, is a casualty of changing views on treating abused and at-risk youngsters.

By Bob Pool, Times Staff Writer

Marilyn Monroe spent some of her most important Hollywood nights in its safe embrace. So did about 20,000 others.

Now, though, the last young resident has packed his bags and moved. Los Angeles' original orphanage is shutting its cottage doors after 125 years of housing children whose families have all but given up on them.

Without fanfare, the venerable privately run Hollygrove children's residential treatment center has closed. It is a victim of a changing philosophy about the treatment for youngsters who are abused, addicted or abandoned.

Orphanages have fallen out of fashion in Los Angeles and across the United States as social services organizations work to move kids from group facilities to foster homes or the homes of members of their extended families or family friends.

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

"We don't think children ages 6 to 12 should be under institutional care," said Lisa Parrish, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

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

"Oh my goodness it's very sad. It was a wonderful, wonderful place," said Signe Van Hoeven, a 100-year-old Rialto resident who lived at Hollygrove for six years from 1915 to 1921. She fondly remembers the names of the home's matrons and teachers who cared for her.


Founded in 1880 as the Los Angeles Orphans Home Society, the children's shelter stood in what is now Chinatown before relocating to Hollywood. Marilyn Monroe would eventually become its most famous alumna.

Norma Jean Baker was 9 in 1935 when she was brought to the orphanage by an aunt. She lived in a girls residence hall whose windows overlooked Paramount Studios and framed its landmark water tower.

"There are probably 40 books that talk about her time here, and each has a different story," said Judith Nelson, president and chief executive officer of Hollygrove. "One book says she cleaned 100 toilets here. Of course, there have never been 100 toilets here to clean."

Monroe's mother was mentally ill and unable to 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 shift into a refuge for children with parents who were alive but unable to care for them. So its name was changed in 1957 to the Hollygrove Home for Children, to the relief of Monroe who made three return visits in the '50s. She signed the guest book as "Norma Jean Baker" on her first trip but used her working name for the other two, Nelson said.

A hallway museum depicts Monroe's stay as well as the long history of the orphanage. It starts with the roundup of so-called "street urchins" by Mrs. Dan Stephens and Mrs. Frank Gibson as women were identified in the custom of the day.

"At the beginning, most of the kids who came here to live didn't have parents. Their parents might have died from disease," Nelson said.

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

However, a Los Angeles Times report published in 1908 identified the land donor as Charles M. Stinson. The paper reported that the parcel, which then totaled five acres, was valued at $15,000.

"There is such an opportunity to make good men and women of them," Stinson was quoted as saying of the orphans. "Many of the poor little fellows have never had a good home or known a parent's care."

Through the 1950s, Hollygrove was known for its annual "fill the larder" food drives.

In recent years, fundraising has been more organized. Private donations have made up 20% to 25% of Hollygrove's annual operating budget of about $11.5 million. The remainder has come from the county departments of Children and Family Services and Mental Health, Nelson said.
Thats a shame, that place has been around for a long time! I bet Marilyn would be upset sadballerina.gif
While Hollygrove will no longer be used as a residential children's home, however the Hollygrove agency is still active in organising camps for underprivileged children. So, Marilyn fans can continue to make donations if they wish. I suspect they will continue to use the building for the agency and as a children's activity centre.

I thought it was interesting to find out that Marilyn visited Hollygrove three times as an adult. I wasn't aware of that. mmmaf_116.gif

A word from Hollygrove on the matter:

We are now serving the same children, plus many more, in their new homes, but the agency itself is not closing at all. In fact, we have about 35 kids here today for Camp Hollygrove, our ongoing therapeutic camp for foster children. When we had kids living on campus, we served only about 45 kids. Now we serve 170 children and their families in their homes, with relatives or loving foster parents. Our private foster families, recruited and trained through Hollygrove, are some of the best in the County.

Robin Moler Development Department
Hollygrove Children and Family Services
815 North El Centro Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Joan Newman
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