Story

The Sanitarium in the Palm Grove

In the hills above Richmond, hikers encounter a unnatural patch of vegetation. While oaks and other native trees dominate the landscape in the hills, here we find palm trees in a dense cluster. The living things are a clue to the history that's buried at the site.

In the early 20th century, Dr. Hendrik Belgum established the Grande Vista Sanitarium to treat mental disorders. They landscaped the grounds in accordance with Belgum's treatment ideas. "To insure our guests an abundance of fresh, wholesome, nourishing food, so essential to the restoration of health," a brochure read, "a select purebred dairy is maintained, also a poultry plan, an apiary, a fruit orchard, vegetable gardens, conservatories, private spring water system, etc.”

As the decades wore on, the house fell into disrepair, though a few patients remained. After Belgum's death from in a brush fire in 1948, his brother Bernard, and sisters Ida and Christine, took possession of the stucco mansion and grounds. Before Bernard's death in 1963, his great nephew Bill Hoffland would come to visit as a young child. More than 45 years later, Hoffland stumbled across a blog post about the sanitarium, and left a comment detailing his memories of the place. It's presented here lightly edited:

"As a little kid we would make the long trek from SF to Richmond to visit Uncle Barney and Aunt Cristine who lived one block from San Pablo Ave. And there was old Aunt Inga and Aunt Ida, the spinster sisters, who were living in the old sanitarium. Even though I was probably five years old or younger, the memories are vivid. The place was interesting and very strange for a little kid. Huge rooms that I still remember painted a picture in my mind that can’t go away.

The library with its newspapers stacked to the cieling. The king chair in the hallway. The old cow painting on the landing of the stairs, painted by a famous CA artist that my cousin now owns. The huge dining room we had Thanksgiving dinner in. The kitchen that Barney spent all his time in in his later years as he was not walking and was wheelchair bound. The billiard room with the antique pool table (which my cousin now owns) with thousands of dead bees all along the walls and floor. The barn with the old wagons up a hill. Vivid memories for a five year old... We still visit the old place, check out the ruins, see the view, the fruit trees, the black berries and think about what might have been."