Hindenburg Park sign debated at meeting

The debate over a recently installed sign at a Los Angeles County park near La Crescenta where Nazi supporters once rallied heated up during a public meeting April 7 that attracted more than 100 people. 

At the center of attention: a 6-foot-high sign reading, “Welcome to Hindenburg Park,” which was installed at the entrance of Crescenta Valley Community Regional Park in February. 

While a historical plaque previously installed inside of the park explains the site’s historical ties to the German-American community, nothing mentions the pro-Nazi rallies organized by the German American Bund that were held there during the 1930s and 1940s. 

“Members of our community brought it to our attention, and then we decided that the sign needed to be removed and that we didn’t like the representation — not the representation but the fact that the sign does not give the entire story of what took place at the park,” Jason Moss, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, said in an interview before the public meeting held at the Sparr Heights Community Center in Glendale after some area residents raised concerns. 

“This is what our mission is, to serve as the voice for the local Jewish community,” he added after the meeting.

The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, a 15-member body made up of L.A. County Board of Supervisors’ appointees, convened the meeting. Commission President Susanne Cumming, Commission Vice President Sandra Thomas and Robin Toma, executive director of the commission, presided over the meeting on behalf of the entire commission. 

The nonprofit German-American cultural organization Tricentennial Foundation paid $2,500 for the sign to be installed. It contains English and German — the phrase “Willkommen zum” (German for “welcome to”) precedes the words “Hindenburg Park.” Official seals of the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appear at the bottom.

The park falls within the district of L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, and its sign pays tribute to a section of the park that was formerly owned by the German American League and where various German-American cultural events took place. The park got its name in 1934 to honor World War I military officer and second president of Germany Paul von Hindenburg. 

Aside from the activities of the Bund at the site, some are troubled that Hindenburg was Germany’s president at the time that Adolf Hitler became chancellor. After Hindenburg’s death in 1934, Hitler assumed the presidency before abolishing the position altogether and declaring himself Fuhrer.

The German American League sold Hindenburg Park to Los Angeles County in 1957 and the county proceeded to incorporate it into the surrounding Crescenta Valley Park. The name Hindenburg Park was all but forgotten until the Tricentennial Foundation successfully lobbied the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to rededicate the Hindenburg Park section in 1992, which resulted in the placement of the plaque there.  

During the meeting, many people spoke in opposition to the sign. Peter Dreier, the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College and author of an April 3 article in the Huffington Post titled “Mike Antonovich, Tear Down That Sign!” said he shared a view espoused by Moss — that there is the need for an additional sign explaining both the good and the bad history of the park.

“I agree with Mr. Moss that we should include a sign on the site that tells us about the remarkable heritage of the German-American culture and the people of this area, and we should also include on that sign something telling us about the odious and ugly part of our local history and the Nazi rallies and the anti-Semitism and the racism that was part of this culture as well,” he said. “We cannot erase that history, we need to learn from it, and the only way to learn from it is to allow people to know it.”

Bruce Rosenauer, the son and grandson of World War II veterans who has lived in La Crescenta since 1951, expressed a different viewpoint: 

“My grandfather carried the mail for over 50 years. We went to several mail carrier picnics in Hindenburg Park in the ’50s. The second world war was still fresh in people’s minds. A lot of the mail carriers fought in the South Pacific and in Europe. These picnics went on for several years at Hindenburg Park. If anyone was outraged, it wasn’t mentioned by these veterans. Why is the outrage now by people who weren’t involved?” he said. 

“You can’t look at yesterday through today’s eyes,” he added.

La Canada-Flintridge resident Nalini Lasiewicz, of Dutch heritage, said those opposed to the sign because of a belief that Hindenburg was responsible for the Holocaust need to brush up on their history. 

“For Hindenburg to be blamed for the psychotic madness of Hitler is inaccurate,” she said.

She said she supports the idea of creating an additional plaque that would explain the entire history of the park, even its once being a site for pro-Nazi rallies. 

“I like the idea of more history,” she said. “I think something good will come out of this.” 

The meeting did not result in any formal decision regarding the fate of the sign. Kaye Michelson, special assistant to the county of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, told the Journal the commissioners who oversaw the meeting “will take the information back to the full commission [and] the full commission will make a recommendation to the Department of Parks and Recreation” regarding the sign. 

The Commission on Human Relations meets the first Monday of every month.