The Controversy Over the New “Hindenburg Park” Sign
A couple months ago, a German-American historical group erected a sign at Dunsmore and Honolulu avenues that memorializes the existence of historic Hindenburg Park as a cultural landmark. A recent article in the magazine The Jewish Journal has brought attention to the fact that a few people are offended by the sign and want it removed. These people feel that the sign glorifies an imagined connection between the park and Nazi Germany.
The reality is this: In the 1930s hundreds of thousands of Germans immigrated to America, many of them settling in Los Angeles and in particular La Crescenta. I’m sure some of them came here to escape the militaristic movement happening in their own country at that time. A group of German-Americans got together and developed a private park specifically for German-oriented groups to rent for various cultural celebrations. They named it Hindenburg Park after then-president of Germany, Paul Von Hindenburg. And before WWII, flags with Swastikas were displayed there, not because they were Nazis, but because that was the national flag of Germany, their homeland.
The park was a popular location, drawing German-Americans from all over California for weekend events. Concurrent to this, a group of extremists, galvanized by the Depression and blaming Jews and Communists for their economic stress, bonded together into the “Bund.” They attracted the lowest elements of society, many of them petty criminals. They admired Hitler, and tried to appear allied with him, although I’ve read that there was actually never any connection or communication between Nazis in Germany and the American Bund. They were an American hate-group.
The Bund would participate in the cultural celebrations at Hindenburg, as they were largely German-Americans, and they were tolerated, in the same way that those with extreme political views are tolerated at public events today. A couple of times the Bund even rented the park for rallies. Like any extremist group, they were well photographed, and many of those photos still float around. Sadly, the existence of those photos creates the impression today that Hindenburg Park was some sort of Nazi headquarters.
The truth is that Hindenburg Park was a German-American cultural center. They put on German plays, ate German food, and listened to German music. The park featured a statue of Beethoven. From the early ’30s to the late ’50s, Hindenburg Park was a mecca for German-Americans. As a matter of fact, the first Oktoberfest in California was held at Hindenburg Park in 1956. That initial celebration can be traced to the very popular Oktoberfest still held every fall in the Montrose Shopping Park.
Hindenburg Park was purchased by the County of Los Angeles in 1957 and folded into the larger Crescenta Valley Park next door. But for locals, it has always been called Hindenburg Park. The sign is merely a historical reference.
The last paragraph of the article in the Jewish Journal conveys an important message. The Journal writes: “Stephen Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, told the Journal that the sign represents an accurate history of the park. However, it would behoove the organizations behind the sign to provide an opportunity for people to know the entire history of the park – warts and all, he added. ‘Historically, it was called Hindenburg Park, and it was a place where German Americans gathered, but I think … it is an important part of the history to tell there was open support, there were pro-Nazi demonstrations there,’ Sass said. ‘That’s a part of it.’”
And that’s what I and other local historians have been doing all along – teaching the “warty” side of the park’s history. We should never forget the mistakes of our past. Otherwise we’re liable to repeat them. But it’s important to keep this in perspective: the new signage for Hindenburg Park is simply a historical tribute to an immigrant group, German-Americans, which played a big part in developing our valley. The fact that the park was briefly associated with a small group of misguided people should not vilify its historical name.