City of Glendale Interdepartmental Communication

DATE: August 17, 1995
TO: Honorable Mayor and Council
FROM: City Attorney
SUBJECT: Agenda Item

1) Report; 1920's Era Lampposts; Discussion/Staff Direction

On July 5, 1995, an issue relating to the design which exists on the base of 1920's era lampposts was raised. The contention was that these approximately 2 inch by 3 inch symbols encircling the base of these old lampposts, were Nazi swastikas, were offensive and should be removed.

With City Council concurrence, this office began researching the issue relating to the lampposts, the design at the base thereof, economic considerations with regard to possible removal, the need for possible education regarding the nature and origin of the symbol, and whether the symbol is violative of the Federal or State Constitutional proscription against government entanglement with religion. This research was intended to be comprehensive and provide a full and complete report to the City Council, including a full range of options for that an objective, reasoned and informed discussion could occur leading to staff direction relative to the lampposts.

As will be seen from the following, this report is broken out into a number of key areas, culminating with a list of options for Council discussion.

The Origin of the Lampposts

The lampposts in question are commonly known as the green ornate single or dual bulb lampposts, the best example of which are found on Broadway between Glendale Avenue and Brand Boulevard.

The twin globe standards are primarily found in the downtown area while the single globe types are found in the residential areas. There are currently approximately 70 of the twin globe and about 860 of the single globe standards, for a total of 930 lampposts.

Our research, along with assistance from the Public Service Department, reveals that the lampposts in question were acquired from a United States company (the Union Metal Company of Canton, Ohio). The lampposts were purchased for approximately $215.00 each and were installed at various times between 1924 and 1926, within the City. The lampposts themselves are made of cast iron. All of the design features of the lampposts appear to have been approved by the City in the early 1920s, including the Greek cross which includes ends of the arms bent at right angles at a counter clockwise direction which is, by definition, a swastika. From our information, it appears that this counter clockwise swastika design was patterned after the design commonly found on Greek garments as a fret or border, and also is found as a design on navajo Indian rugs.

Not a scintilla of evidence exists to indicate that the counter clockwise swastika design at the base of the lampposts was intended as a political or other statement in support of any group or organization. This issue will be more fully discussed under the heading of the history, origin and use of the symbol.

The History, Origin and Use of the Symbol

The symbol in question is approximately a two-inch by three-inch decorative band of counter-clockwise swastikas. They become visible when one approaches approximately ten feet in distance from the lamppost.

To the best that our research could determine, the word "swastika" came from the Indic word "svastika" which is Sanskrit meaning "well and being". The symbol dates back to the Third Millennium and before the 1930's had a rich history of use for thousands of years either as a symbol of the sun, of infinity, of continuing re-creation, as a symbol of spiritual significance, and as a common decorative motif. The symbol itself is to be found in almost every ancient and primitive cult all over the world; in Christian catacombs, in Britain, Ireland, Mycenae and Gascony, the Hindus, Japan, China, Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, Rome, and in North, Central and South America. (See Dictionary of Symbols, J.E. Cirlot; Collier's Encyclopedia, Volume 21, 1991, Macmillan Education Company, New York and An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols by J.C. Cooper). Invariably, throughout all of the cultures, the generalized meaning of the symbol was one of good fortune. Good fortune or good luck took many meanings with different cultures, Asian Moslems, for example, find that the swastika symbol denotes the four cardinal directions and control of the four seasons by angels, one at each point; the Japanese find that it is the heart of Buddha and means good fortune or good wishes. In Roman, it was the symbol of Jupiter Tonus and Pluvius; in Scandinavia, it represented the battle ax or hammer of Thor as god of the air, thunder and lightening and good luck. In Lithuania, it is talismanic and good luck and its Sanskrit name is used; in China, the two swastikas are used as depicting the yin and yang forces interlaced and sometimes called "Solomon's Knots," they symbolized divine inscrutability and infinity. Lastly, in Hindu, it means "it is well", life, movement, happiness and/or good fortune. The symbol itself is sometimes called a "gammadion" which is essentially defined as a cross formed of four capital "gammas" especially in the figure of a swastika. "Gamma" among early Christians symbolized Christ as cornerstone of the church.

The symbol itself has been found throughout the United States on petroglyphs, particularly in the Southwest as a Hopi symbol as evidenced by petroglyphs found in the I'aiute creek mouth, Glen Canyon area, Utah. The swastika-"glyph" was also found amongst the Aztecs and on pottery from the Mississippi River Valley from 1000 to 1650 A.D. The Zuni of New Mexico, as reported in 1896, partitioned space into seven regions beginning with four directions as the primary directional subdivisions (as found in a petroglyph from the South Mountains, Arizona).

Lastly, before its association with Nazi Germany, it was a common symbol on navajo rugs. As evidenced by the attached diagram (Attachment "A") showing a swastika on a navajo rug circa 1900 to 1920 (see also "Talking Pots: Deciphering the Symbols of a Prehistoric People" by James R. Contle, Golden West Publishers, Phoenix, 1993).

Additional research has revealed that the symbol itself was not uncommon in Judaism. The symbol itself has been found to appear in ancient synagogues as well as being found as a symbol appearing on sarcophagus in Roman catacombs. While the meaning is open to question, at least one author believes that the symbol was presented with the understanding as hope for future life.

(See "Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period," Edward R. Goodenough, Volume 2, 1953.)

Lastly, the symbol itself either standing alone, in a band, as a free ornament, a column support, or repeating ornament, was and apparently still is a common design feature (see Handbook of Ornaments, Franz Sales Meyer).

Obviously, the recitation of the aforementioned history is totally unrelated in any way to the now universally recognized symbol of hate that was utilized in Nazi Germany during the 1930's and 1940's. However, it must be noted that the symbol itself as adopted by the Nazis is distinctly different. The Nazi swastika, and more particularly the swastika utilized by the Nazis as the official emblem of their flag (which became the official emblem in 1935) while a "gammadion" is more commonly known as a "hakenkreuz", and is a symbol with its outer ends or arms rotated in a clockwise (not in a counter-clockwise) position. Additionally, the Nazi swastika was generally rotated to a 45-degree angle, not "squared off" as is the symbol found both on the lampposts in question as well as the common design feature that one finds on frets or boarders in many different applications even today. (See Attachment "B" - diagram of the two different swastikas.)

History tends to reveal that while a small group of Nazis and those advocating anti-Semitism began in the late 1900's (approximately 1918), the movement was small and our research reveals no universality nor other indication that the symbol had gained such prominence either inside Germany or throughout the world as being associated with anti-Semitism to lead one to believe there were political or other motives for utilizing the symbol here in Glendale or elsewhere in Los Angeles County on a lamppost, column or as a design feature. In fact, history indicates that it was not until approximately 1933 that the Nazis consolidated power in Germany and then the "hakenkreuz" became more universally well known as a symbol of hate and eventually culminating in its being adopted as the official emblem of the Nazi flag. This period of time post-dates the installation of the Glendale lampposts by a minimum of nine years, and as stated earlier, the history of the symbol itself far predates its use by the dreaded and hated regime in Nazi Germany.

The use of the symbol throughout time has connoted, with the exception of Nazi Germany, good luck or good fortune. The symbol is still utilized and found today on ancient artifacts, columns and even as fret borders in modern retail establishments. While found on the base of Glendale lampposts, the symbol as a repeating band (each swastika interconnected with one another) is found on the bases of lampposts in Los Angeles County. The symbol has also been seen as a fret border in a major retail establishment in Las Vegas, Nevada. As indicated by Exhibit "C"

(excerpts from the Handbook of Ornaments), the symbol itself is quite common as a fret band, a fringe or valance, on support columns, and as a repeating ornament.

One could literally write a major treatise on the history of the symbol itself and its usage by the many, many cultures throughout the world. Suffice it to state, that in summary, the lampposts in Glendale, and I suspect, lampposts elsewhere in Los Angeles County which contain this symbol either standing alone or connected as a repeating ornament, were not intended or designed to make any political statement and, in fact, were nothing more than a common design feature which far pre-dates the use of the symbol by the Nazis as a symbol associated with a despicable, hateful regime.

The true issue as it relates to the symbol, is as stated by the individual who has raised opposition thereto, is the need to be sensitive to the meaning the symbol developed in the 1930 's and 1940's. Surely if the City were to design lampposts with the symbol today, one might legitimately question the City's sensitivity. However, that issue is not before us. The lampposts in question were designed and installed between 1924 and 1926. They are no different than navajo rugs which were woven at the turn of the century, nor different than the vast myriad of columns, frets, valances, borders or other lampposts in Los Angeles County, containing the symbol and if one investigates far enough, perhaps throughout the Unites States and other parts of the world. (We have heard that the symbol was in somewhat common usage in Ireland, however, as of the date of this report have been unable to confirm such information.)

Historical Impact of Altering the Lampposts

In 1985, the Glendale Historical Society recommended that the Historic Preservation Element of the General Plan be amended to include an inventory of historic streetscapes and street lighting areas and provide policies for their protection. In 1983/1984, a Glendale architectural and historical survey final report was prepared and included therein was a discussion of these ornate street lamps.

As indicated by the attached Exhibit "D" (Historic Resources Inventory), the light standards were found to be ornate and eye-catching "decorative reminders of an earlier era..." "Their design and scale complement the architecture and add a certain vitality, intimacy and warmth to the streetscape that is usually missing in modern street lighting." That said, however, it was found that the street lamps were not eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Since they do not appear on the historic preservation element of the general plan, they are not formally protected as historic and may legally be altered. However, it is important to note that the lampposts are historically "unique" or in the terms of the report, "Are among the most powerfully evocative elements of the historic built environment [in Glendale]." The Historical Society has recommended preservation of the lampposts to the maximum extent possible.

Excessive Entanglement of Church and State

The individual raising opposition to the counter clockwise swastika symbol, raised the issue in the context, among other things, of an excessive entanglement of government with religious values. This apparently was based upon a comment that I had made at a public meeting that I had believed and recalled that the symbol had some religious significance to Hindus.

The legal issue need not detain us long. Both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 4 of the California Constitution, are comprised of a religious freedom component which in and of itself is broken into two areas; the free exercise provision and the establishment clause. The only relevant area of inquiry is the impact that the maintenance of the lampposts have on the establishment clause.

In essence, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...."

The courts over the years have had the opportunity to interpret this provision many times and fairly standard litmus test has been developed. In the seminal case of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)

403 U.S. 602, 29 L. Ed. 2d 745, (a case involving state aid to schools ) the United States Supreme Court established a three part test when viewing issues involving the establishment clause.

Under Lemon, the practice or statute involved must have a secular purpose; it must neither advance or inhibit religion in principle or primary affect; and it should not foster excessive entanglement with religion.

The court went on to describe the evils to be avoided under the establishment clause where those of government sponsorship, financial support, and/or active involvement of government in religious activity. Essentially, paraphrasing, government cannot endorse religious doctrine. It is fairly clear that even under the Lemon test, as enunciated in 1971, that the symbols on the lampposts do not offend the establishment clause provisions of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. However cases that have been decided subsequent to Lemon have further buttressed the argument that the symbols on the lampposts, even if they had some religious significance to a particular group, clearly do not offend the establishment clause. In more recent cases, the court has indicated that a practice or statute that benefits or burdens religion in some incidental way, does not trigger a violation of the establishment clause. Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc. v. F.C.C. (1993) 819 F. Supp. 32. In the Turner case, the court asked the somewhat rhetorical question as to whether a reasonable observer would interpret the governmental action as religion preferential, and that there would be little danger of such a perception if the law applies to a broad range of activities. In the Turner case, the court was looking at an actual law. In the case of the lampposts, we are not looking at a law, but as something the court, I believe would refer to as a mundane matter, even on a lesser scale than a "practice." See Lucas Valley Homeowners' Ass'n., Inc. v. County of Marin (1991) 233 C.A. 3d 130, where the court found that restriction on activities conducted at a church as part of the grant of a conditional use permit, was essentially a mundane matter which did not give rise to an excessive entanglement by government with religious activities sufficient to offend the establishment clause.

At best, the situation herein, if it can be compared to anything at all, can be compared to the recent spate of nativity scene cases. The most recent of which provide that when viewed in the overall context, nativity scenes, unless clearly and specifically designed and displayed for a religious purpose, do not offend the establishment clause. See ACLU of Kentucky v. Wilkinson

(1990) 895 F. 2d 1098; Doe v. City of Clawson (1990) 915 F. 2d 244; and County of Allegheny v. ACLU of Greater Pittsburgh (1989) 492 U.S. 573, 106 L. Ed.2d 472.

There is absolutely nothing that has been raised by the individual in opposition to the symbol nor in the facts as found by this office, which would support even a remotely colorable claim that this symbol fosters excessive government entanglement with religious doctrine. In summation, the claim is meritless and should be rejected.

Other Issues Raised by the Party Opposing the Symbol

The individual opposing the symbol raises a number of issues other than the main legal issue set forth above. I will briefly address those issues.

The individual uses by way of example through hearsay, that the City at one time removed lampposts which contained the counter clockwise swastika symbol at the request of a complainant in the area of Pacific Avenue, particularly near the Temple Sinai.

Research has revealed that this is simply not correct. In 1987, the old twin globe cast iron lampposts (with the symbols), along Pacific Avenue from Glenoaks Boulevard to Stocker Street, were all removed as part of a project to install high pressure sodium lighting. All of the 1920''s era cast iron light standards were replaced with aluminum pole and shoebox-style luminaries. This was done as part of a project to increase lighting for pedestrians and vehicles given the changing lighting needs of the area and not in response to any individual compliant.

The individual opposed to the symbol also raises the issue that the "common man" walking by the lampposts would believe that the symbol is that of a Nazi swastika. My response to this comment is that initially it is somewhat demeaning to 1) the power of education, and 2) any individual's capacity to become educated as to the true meaning and intent of the symbols on the lamppost.

Education is a powerful tool and is probably the most formidable weapon one has toward overcoming bias, on any scale or level. It is certainly appropriate, and has been done in the past by Public Service Department staff, to educate those who inquire as to the true meaning of the symbol in the context of when the lampposts were erected. In fact, the small number of inquires we have received over the years about the symbol have been handled through educational letters which inform an individual as to the nature, origin and history of the lampposts and the symbol. With the exception of one individual, all those with whom we have had contact regarding the issue, once educated, believe it is either a non-issue or completely understand that you do not, and cannot, eradicate history by tearing up ancient navajo rugs, destroying Indian pottery, asking the Buddhists, Hindus, or others to forego their cultural icon and removing all references to the symbol wherever it may appear, and in whatever form it may take. Accurate information conveyed to the public is highly appropriate in this type of circumstance. The most recent example of this on a general level was in an episode recently run by a responsible television network on April 14 and July 28, 1995. While the episode itself was a science fiction production, the episode contained footage and an explanation of the fylfot symbol. Fylfot, is another name for gammadion, or the reverse or counter clockwise swastika. Even the television network recognized the historic meaning of the symbol. (It was portrayed in the episode as a symbol to ward off evil and for good luck.) I use this example only to illustrate that those who are informed can develop a better understanding of the history and nature of the symbol as used on the lampposts, and perhaps have a greater sensitivity to the differentiation between the historic nature of the symbol and the Nazi symbol of hate which should be universally condemned.

Lastly, the individual raises the issue that the existence of the symbols on lampposts attract those who would foster a message of hate to the community. Such a bold statement and quantum leap of illogic deserves little comment, other than to state that there is not a shred of evidence to reveal that such is the case. In fact, one might argue on the same level that under the theory that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, the strong demands made by this individual for the removal of the symbol, may in and of itself be the lightening rod to attract the opposite reaction, i.e., those who would embrace a symbol of hate and therefore be attracted to a confrontation.

We find no evidence that the nondescript 2 by 3 inch symbol which pre-dates Nazi Germany, is a common design feature and found throughout cultures of the World far before the 1930s, is in any way an invitation to groups that foster a message of hate that they are welcome here. Quite to the contrary, this City Council, as well as those that have preceded it, have stated publicly in no uncertain terms that any group, organization or individual whose message is one of hate against any group is not only unwelcome, but will not be tolerated within the community. The evidence over at least the past 18 years in support of this is irrefutable, i.e., the adoption by the City Council of Resolution No. 23175 establishing a response team for hate-related incidents; the establishment of a community relations blue ribbon task force and the Glendale Community relations coalition, and the high level of attention given by the Glendale Police Department to hate motivated crimes that occur within the City limits.

The notion that the ancient symbols on lampposts attract those with a hateful message is illogical and unsupported by any evidence. In any event, any such group or individual, as stated earlier, would not be welcome and would not be tolerated within the community.

Alternatives for Modifying the Lampposts

Consistent with our research, we have analyzed the alternatives involved in altering the lampposts in such a fashion as to either completely obliterate, partially remove, or cover the counter clockwise swastika, and further included the option of removal and replacement of the lampposts with an aluminum or fiberglass replica absent the counter clockwise swastika symbol.


To replace the 930 lampposts in question, it has been estimated that the cost to replace twin globe standards is approximately $6,000 each, with the cost to replace single globe standards at approximately $2,800 each. The total cost of replacing the approximately 930 lampposts throughout the City would, therefore be $2,800,000.

Grinding, Cutting, or Covering the Symbol

The Public Service staff reviewed the approximate cost for filling in the symbol (the symbol on the lampposts is embossed or "raised") or chipping or grinding away all or a portion of the symbol. The cost to either fill in the symbol with epoxy or other material, as well as grinding or chipping away at either all or a portion of the symbol, is approximately the same. The estimated cost for performing such work is approximately $300.00 per lamppost. The Public Service Department actually performed a test on one of the lampposts and determined that it would take one minute to grind off a one-foot portion (the outer right angle counter-clockwise arm, of which there are four per symbol) of the symbol. There are a total of 17 symbols on each light standard. It would require the purchase of a portable grinder and would utilize approximately two grinding wheels per light standard in order to grind off just one of the outer arms. In order to remove the top half of the symbol, it would take approximately three and one-half minutes for each of the 17 symbol per light standard. In addition, there would be needed a portable power supply, vehicle and safety face shields for the worker and appropriate traffic precautions due to the proximity to the street and pedestrians. In addition, the aforementioned does not take into account the aesthetic appearance of the base of the lamppost after the grinding job was completed, nor does it take into account the need to repaint the base even if the aesthetic issue as set forth above was resolved. There would be an additional labor and cost factor involved in performing these functions. Further, the lampposts are very old, having been installed in the 1920's. Cast iron over time becomes somewhat brittle and there is a risk that during any grinding or chipping process, the cast iron base of the lamppost could crack which would necessitate either further major repairs or complete replacement of the lamppost. During the test performed by Public Service staff, the grinding operation did not result in the particular test model cracking, however, given the age of the lampposts, the possibility of base cracks forming during a grinding process is a legitimate possibility.

Filling in the symbol with some form of epoxy or other filler in order to "square it off" would be labor-intensive and result in the same approximately $300.00 per lamppost cost. In addition, aesthetics becomes a question in that the epoxy or other material must be applied in a manner which would not destroy the overall aesthetics of these extremely ornate, old lampposts. The benefit provided by an epoxy or filling method is that the symbol itself would not be destroyed, but merely altered in appearance.

Modifying the Symbol During Major Refurbishment or Maintenance

In certain circumstances, the lampposts in question require major exterior refurbishment or maintenance which includes sandblasting and repainting of the lampposts. We have inquired from a company that performs such work as to what the incremental increase in cost, if any, would be if the company were to remove either two or four of the outer counter-clockwise legs of the symbols on the lampposts as part of a regular contract for refurbishing the exterior of the lampposts. The cost proposal to remove two legs of the symbol is approximately $583.00 per lamppost. The cost to remove four legs of the symbol (essentially leaving a "+" symbol) is approximately $913.00 per lamppost. This represents the incremental increase in cost solely for altering the symbol on the base as performed by the contractor who would be already performing the refurbishing work. This cost would include the painting and other labor costs which were not included in the City's estimate of using City forces to grind or chip away at a portion of the symbol as set forth above. This option is available only when the City is contracting out to have major refurbishment work done of the existing lampposts.

Covering the Symbol

We have also researched the cost of fabricating an aluminum or other band which could be riveted or otherwise affixed around the area of the base containing the symbol in question. It is possible to fabricate such a band at minimal cost ($300.00 to $500.00 for the initial fabrication of the mold, with a much smaller per unit cost for each band thereafter). The band itself would be essentially plain aluminum and would have to be affixed to the base of the lamppost and, at a minimum, painted to blend in to the extent possible with the ornate nature of the lamppost. Should a more elaborate band be found to be more appropriate, including differing symbols and/or beveling which tends to better blend in with the existing design of the lamppost, the cost of fabricating such a band would increase. It is important to note that bands are not intended to eliminate the symbol but merely "hide" the symbol. The symbol would continue to exist albeit behind a rather crude, simple (as originally reviewed) circular aluminum band.

The aforementioned represents all of the options reviewed by this office and Public Service staff relative to the issue of obscuring, removing, replacing or covering the symbol in question. As can be seen from all of the alternatives, there is a cost factor as well as a labor factor involved. Should you desire additional information relating to the above, I would be pleased to attempt to obtain same.

Options for Discussion

With the above history of the lampposts, the symbol, economic considerations, and the issues as raised and previously discussed, we now set forth in summary the options for discussion.

  1. Complete replacement of the lampposts (cost approximately $2,800,000)
  2. Chipping, grinding, filling or otherwise altering the symbol (cost approximately $300.00 per lamppost, not including painting or labor to make same aesthetically complimentary to the rest of the lamppost, along with a possible risk of serious damage to the post).
  3. Alteration of the symbol during major exterior refurbishment of the lampposts (cost $583 to $913 per lamppost).
  4. Take no action and preserve the lampposts as they are.
  5. Distribute an educational/informational bulletin or utilize existing formats for publication of an educational or informational item relating to the history of the lamppost and the symbols contained thereon.
  6. Fabricate an aluminum (or other material) band for placement around the symbols thereby covering same (initial cost $300 to $500 or higher, depending upon the intricacy of the casting for the band with incremental costs for each lamppost thereafter. The cost does not include labor and painting to, in some manner fashion a band which is aesthetically complimentary to the other ornamental features of the lampposts).
  7. Replace the lampposts only as part of a replacement requirement when needed to increase lighting efficiency as determined by appropriate experts, and at the time of replacement, ensure that a design does not include any swastika type symbol.

I will be available to discuss this memorandum, the options for discussion, and provide a recommendation to you based upon my research, should you desire same. Additionally, staff would appreciate any direction that Council may provide regarding this matter.

Respectfully submitted,

Scott H. Howard
City Attorney


Attachment A (navajo Rug Designs)
Attachment B (Different Swastika Designs)
Attachment C (Ornamental Designs)
Attachment D (Historic Resources Inventory)
Attachment E (Addenda: Misc. Pictures)

Last modified: Friday, July 06, 2012 2:33:40 PM