Controversial Sign Draws Protests For Conjuring Up Park's Nazi Past
It may read "Willkommen zum Hindenburg Park," but county officials are finding out the hard way that the new sign at the entrance to Crescenta Valley Park isn't so welcome, especially at a park where Nazi rallies were held in the 1930s.
The new sign, which references Paul von Hindenburg—a former German president who some argue helped Hitler rise to power— was debated at a heated public hearing last Thursday, according to the L.A. Times. A trio of representatives from L.A. County's Human Relations Commission heard from supporters and opponents of the sign at the packed community meeting. The western section of Crescenta Valley Park was historically known as Hindenburg Park, but the name was dropped in the 1950s when the county acquired the land.
According to the Crescenta Valley Historical Society, the portion of Crescenta Valley Park west of Dunsmore Avenue was owned for decades by the German-American League, who acquired the land in 1925 and named it for World War I hero and former German President Paul von Hindenburg (Hindenburg was president of the Weimar Republic during Hitler's rise to power).
Los Angeles County acquired Hindenburg Park for $91,000 sometime in the late 1950s (accounts differ on the specific year), and folded it into the already-established Crescenta Valley Park, according to the L.A. Times. The western section of the park has technically been known as Hindenburg Park since the 1990s, but the sign at the entrance went up in February 2016.
The Times reports that the new sign, which delivers its message in German and English, was fully paid for by a German heritage organization called the Tricentennial Foundation, but its installation was approved by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
In the 1930s, the park was home to many Nazi rallies and became a meeting place of sorts for the Bund, a pro-Nazi group with ties to Hitler, as recounted in Gary Keyes and Mike Lawler's 2014 book Wicked Crescenta Valley:
In La Crescenta, the Bund held its rallies in Hindenburg Park, which was located on the western edge of what is now La Crescenta Park. The park was used by the local German community to celebrate German culture and fellowship. It contained statues of German cultural heroes such as Paul Von Hindenburg, as well as a chalet where sausage and beer was served. It was one of several recreational areas used by the Bund... In discussing Hindenburg Park, [local historian Charles Basuback] emphasized the social nature of the gatherings and stressed that the Bund was a tolerated group. The park served as a district site for Camp Sutter, a youth camp of the Jungenschaft movement. This organization was a community of youngsters modeled on the Hitler Youth. At the park, the Bund held dances and patriotic assemblies...
The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys has vehemently protested the sign, telling the L.A. Times that "the Jewish Federation understands the desire to recognize and honor German-American culture, but feels that there are many more ways that this can be done … especially in a manner that does not evoke memories of one of the world's worst atrocities to ever take place."
In a phone call, Hans Eberhard, a volunteer at Tricentennial Foundation, balked at the protests, telling LAist that it's "a bunch of uneducated people, really, who are protesting." Eberhard added that "Hindenburg hated Hitler, we know that... He was an old man and he died and then Hitler took over."
The Jewish Journal argues that "while Hindenburg defeated Adolf Hitler in his bid for the presidency, he was the one who ultimately appointed Hitler as chancellor."
Eberhard said he saw no validity to claims of insensitivity due to Nazi rallies held at the park, telling LAist that "the park was for rent for anybody. If the KKK would have come, they would have rented it to them. Maybe they did."
“Swastikas flew in the park in La Crescenta and that’s why we want the sign taken down,” Jason Moss, executive director of the federation told the L.A. Daily News.