Retired Rosemont Middle School history teacher Lynn McGinnis told me recently that he was walking in the Montrose area, and came on a family gathered around a streetlight, one of them crouched down examining the base of the lamppost. Lynn said he knew what was up immediately, as it’s an issue that gets ugly in Montrose and Glendale about every four to five years. He approached the group, and heard exactly what he was expecting: “There are Nazi symbols on this lamppost!”
This oft-repeated scenario has been a headache for the City of Glendale for several decades, most famously in the mid-nineties when the Jewish Defense League threatened Glendale with a lawsuit, demanding the lamppost symbols be removed. The lamppost swastika symbols – actually reversed and turned 45 degrees from the Nazi logo – are in a 2-inch high band running around the base of most of the lampposts in Glendale. The decorative swastikas were a popular design element in the ’20s when the lampposts were purchased and installed in huge quantities, not only in Glendale but across the nation. This was long before the swastika became identified with Nazi Germany.
The swastika as a symbol is over 3000 years old, its name deriving from a Sanskrit word literally meaning “well-being.” The swastika, in both clockwise and counter-clockwise form, is found historically in almost all major cultures as a symbol of goodness, from simply a good luck charm or decoration, all the way up to a religious icon with auspicious meaning. It’s unfortunate that it is most remembered today for its very brief usage as a symbol of evil.
The city has dealt with the swastika lampposts in various ways over the years. Schemes to grind off the logos, or cover them with a metal band have been considered. For a while their policy was when a pole needed to be replaced because of damage, they put an expensive mismatched modern pole in its place, which of course brought complaints from neighbors. More galling is the city owns vast stores of old spare swastika posts stored in maintenance yards, just ready for placement. Lately, with City money tight, they’ve been putting the old ones in, and let the controversy be damned.
John Drayman has an interesting story about swastika lampposts in Montrose. A few years ago he led the efforts to get the historic old streetlights put back on Honolulu, like they had been in the ’20s and ’30s. He knew that the city had swastika posts that could be restored, and so he assumed he’d have to deal with the hysterics he knew would come up. But when examining old photos of the streetlights on Honolulu, he saw that the old posts there didn’t have the swastikas on them. He realized that in the mid-twenties, when the swastika lampposts were being put in all throughout Glendale, Glendale’s northern city limit was Broadview, one block below Honolulu. Honolulu itself was unincorporated county, and wasn’t annexed by Glendale until the ’50s.
He confirmed the county had used a different supplier, and found that the manufacturer for the old Honolulu lampposts, Union Metal in Ohio, still existed. Not only that, but when he contacted them, he found they miraculously still owned the original wooden molds made for Montrose in the ’20s. That fact lowered the cost of newly manufactured “old” lampposts to nearly the cost of restoring the City owned swastika posts. Not only that, but they were more authentic, plus – no controversy! Those are the lampposts you see on Honolulu today.
Next time you’re out for a stroll in the Montrose Shopping Park, take a detour one block south to Broadview and check out the base of one of the lampposts there. When you first see the swastikas it is a little bit of a shock, I’ll admit. We’ve become so overly sensitized to the Nazi symbol, that any swastika, no matter its orientation or angle, disturbs us. But remember that you know its history. Have a little chuckle to yourself as you think of the reactions of those who don’t.
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the
Crescenta Valley. Reach him at