The Last Years of Hindenburg Park
We’re seeing some sharp controversy over the addition of a Hindenburg Park sign at the intersection of Dunsmore and Honolulu avenues. The sign of course refers to the historic name of the western portion of Crescenta Valley Park. From the early ’30s until 1957 it was a private picnic ground owned by the German-American League. But let’s put controversy aside and look at the last years of the privately owned park and its transition to a county park.
In the 1950s, the park was wildly popular as a celebration site, pulling in thousands each weekend from all over Southern California. Although the park was mainly used by German-American cultural groups, other nationalities – Swedes, Norwegians, Poles, Spanish, French, Irish, and Italian – also gathered there for cultural festivals. Once each year they all came together for the “Old World Picnic.” In 1954, 8,000 participants representing countries and cultures from all over Europe came together for the yearly celebration of the international diversity of America. The smells of exotic foods and the babble of different languages merged with background music from a multitude of international bands playing everything from waltzes to polkas to bluegrass. It’s interesting to note that in those pre- and post-WWII years, the valley had two major gathering areas for Southern California immigrants. There was Hindenburg Park, which had more of a northern and western European orientation in its functions, and the Slovakian Hall (across from today’s Monte Vista Elementary School) whose celebrations drew more eastern European immigrants.
In October 1956 the German-American League put on California’s first Oktoberfest, patterned after the traditional fall festival in Munich. Again an international theme was stressed. Besides the requisite beer and bratwurst, a pageant was put on showing Uncle Sam (with a slight German accent) welcoming groups of immigrants from all over the world to America, each group portrayed by singers wearing ethnic costumes and singing native songs. The Oktoberfest was a benefit to raise money to fund an “American Museum of Immigration,” to be housed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. (The museum was finally fully funded and opened in 1972 and operated for 20 years until it was transferred to a new site on Ellis Island.)
But by the late ’50s the valley’s population had swelled, and both the County of Los Angeles and the City of Glendale were playing catch-up building infrastructure and parks. The German-American League was beginning to see that hosting events each weekend drawing thousands was not going to be welcome forever in the growing neighborhoods surrounding the park. At the same time, the County realized that by purchasing Hindenburg Park and adding it to CV Park next door, it would be gaining event space that would make the park a regional attraction. In February 1957 a formal offer was made of $91,000 for the 15 acres, which the German-American League accepted.
The County removed much of the infrastructure that the German-American League had developed over the 25 years of their ownership: the two big stages, the beer and wine stands, and several outbuildings. Many of the foundations remain today, and a sharp eye can still spot them.
There were two works of art that were probably removed at the time of the County’s acquisition: a bust of Beethoven and a huge bust of Paul Von Hindenburg, but where they went, no one seems to know. The Beethoven bust was a life-sized bronze by a famous L.A. artist, so it probably went into private hands. The base of the installation still remains, where a semi-circular stone bench surrounds it. However the Hindenburg bust was an immense stone sculpture, the head probably five feet from chin to forehead, the total installation perhaps 10 feet high. How it was ever removed and where it went is still a mystery.
There you have it – a fascinating history. We don’t know yet if the controversy will boil over and the sign will be removed. But whether the sign stays or goes, the legacy of Hindenburg Park remains – a legacy of immigrants in America celebrating and keeping their heritage alive.