Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Glendale Fought the Nazis in 1964

The City of Glendale made news recently by officially apologizing for its racist past, specifically racial restrictions on housing and unwritten “sundown laws” which “encouraged” African Americans to be out of town by sundown. Glendale was the first city in California to acknowledge its error, and the third in the nation. I applaud this. As anyone knows who reads my columns, I’m an advocate of recognizing all parts of our history, even the ugly parts.

But something that always comes up when “Glendale” and “racist history” get mentioned together is that the American Nazi Party established its headquarters in Glendale in December 1964. While often followed by the caveat that Glendale actively opposed its presence, sometimes that part is left out which leads to the false impression that Glendale was a haven for the American Nazi Party. Not true. The American Nazi Party targeted Glendale, along with several other Southern California cities, all of which opposed it.

George Lincoln Rockwell was a former Navy officer and admirer of Hitler when he founded the far-right American Nazi Party in 1959. Rockwell had a flair for drama, adopting Nazi-style uniforms and swastikas for their shock value. He was a dynamic rabble-rouser. He countered the “Freedom Bus” with his “Hate Bus,” started a record label “Hatenanny Records” to record the band Odis Cochran and the Three Bigots, and even published a comic book of a superhero called “Whiteman.” He reportedly coined the term “White Power.”

After establishing a foothold on the east coast, Rockwell went after the west coast with one of his acolytes, former Marine Ralph Forbes. In 1963 Forbes tried to hold a rally in Redondo Beach, but was refused by the city. The ACLU went to bat for the Nazis, so the city instead asked for an exorbitantly high bond, which Forbes couldn’t post. The Nazis next went after the City of Torrance, again attempting to hold rallies twice in early 1964, which again were rebuffed. In late 1964, Forbes altered his tactics for hitting Glendale. He quietly signed a lease for a residential house on Colorado Boulevard. Once he had the lease in-hand he announced that the house would be the western headquarters for the American Nazi Party.

George Lincoln Rockwell held a press conference in which he gave his reasons for the headquarters’ location.

“This is the nearest thing to an old-fashioned American town,” said Rockwell. “Glendale is a white man’s town. The purpose of the Glendale headquarters will be to provide a center of resistance to Communism and race-mixing.”

The City was horrified. It immediately began searching for any means to oust Forbes and the Nazis. It would be tricky, as the Nazis still had the ACLU behind them. The landlord was horrified as well, and tried unsuccessfully to break the lease and evict them, even having a Jewish WWII veteran serve an eviction notice. The house, located directly across from Bob’s Big Boy, soon attracted huge crowds and sightseer traffic clogged the boulevard. At night rowdy kids threw rocks at the darkened house, dark because the city had cut the power. Pre-Presidential Ronald Reagan even got into the act, speaking against the Nazis at the Glendale Civic Auditorium.

The only thing the City could legally do was to go after the Nazis on zoning. They had leased a residential property and they were using it as an “assembly hall.” A judge agreed and convicted Forbes of a zoning violation, and he went to jail for five days. This was later overturned on appeal. The City could only harass Forbes. Forbes harassed back by running for City Council.

The back and forth lasted until 1967 when Forbes and the Nazis moved to El Monte with similar civic drama. For over a decade they annoyed El Monte, under the cover of operating as a church with Forbes as minister. The El Monte location was plagued with demonstrations, riots, even a murder. Glendale was lucky, I guess.
So, to set the record straight, Glendale, in spite of its racist past, was a victim of the American Nazis, not a collaborator.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
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