Hindenburg Park Memories
My good friend Art Cobery recently gave me copies of letters he received from former CV resident Paul Brown. They’re full of Paul’s memories of our little valley, particularly during the 1930s when he was a boy. One of those letters has to do with Hindenberg Park in the ’30s when the swastika flag flew over that part of La Crescenta.
As those familiar with the valley’s history already know, Hindenburg Park was owned by the German American League from the early ’30s until the late ’50s. It was used nearly every weekend for German cultural festivities that attracted thousands of German Americans from all over California. In 1957 it was sold to the county to become the western portion of Crescenta Valley Park.
Paul Brown remembers that in the ’30s on Saturday mornings the sounds of martial drums and brass bands would float across the quiet valley and would act as a siren’s call to the youth of La Crescenta. The local kids would be drawn to Hindenberg Park to witness the spectacle of marching bands, drum and bugle corps, and the bold red and black swastika flags – the national flag of Germany. There were marches in military precision along with fantastic plays performed on a huge stage, and a giant dance floor where men and women dressed in the ethnic costumes of the different parts of Germany performed native folk dances. The food was plentiful and beer and wine flowed freely. Speeches were given in both English and German, and rousing cheers came from the crowd at each mention of Hitler’s name. Adolf Hitler had brought Germany up from economic collapse to a new vibrancy and wealth and the people were proud of their fatherland’s leader. They were proud of Germany as well, before the horrors of Nazism were known.
The boys of the valley were particularly attracted to watching the contests of strength and speed put on for the German American boys. There were foot races, javelin and ball throwing along with wrestling and pole climbing. Paul remembers that the winners of these contests were awarded some truly enviable brand-new sporting equipment – enviable to the watching boys as their own sports equipment was worn and patched, if they had any at all. Paul regretfully remembers that the covetous local boys, himself included, would sometimes lie in wait for the prizewinners to drift away from the crowds. The hooligans would emerge from the surrounding brush of the Verdugo Mountains and relieve the winners of the new prizes, then disappear back into the bushes. Food was fair game for Paul and his thieving friends as well, and they looted the celebrations freely. Paul writes that he regrets this activity deeply, but it was all very exciting at the time. We all have things in our past we wish we hadn’t done.
Paul remembers that when WWII started, the German Americans disappeared from the park and Hindenburg was closed for some time. As a soldier in WWII Europe, Paul came across German prisoners who spoke perfect English. These were often men who had grown up in the United States, but had returned to Germany for the economic opportunities of its booming war-based economy. Who knows how many of those men attended the celebrations at Hindenburg Park as boys? Today Hindenburg Park is remembered in informational plaques at both entrances to the west side of CV Park.
I’ll give you some more of Paul Brown’s memories in upcoming columns. If you enjoy my columns and the dynamic history of our valley, I’d urge you to join the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. They have monthly programs and a monthly newsletter – 12 pages of local history just like you find in my column. There are also monthly tours of local historical sites, often open to “members only.” For instance, next month the members will tour Mountain Oaks, the abandoned resort I wrote of recently, and coming up is a tour of the Ananda Ashrama, a secluded local spiritual retreat. To join, contact me at my email address or visit the Historical Society’s website at www.cvhistory.org.