The Spy of Shadow Hills -- Rumors or Reality?
The Spy of Shadow Hills -- Rumors or Reality?
For 80 years, people have been saying the German owner of the Old Vienna Gardens was a spy. Learn the true story in our book.
For 80 years, people have been saying the German owner of the Old Vienna Gardens was a spy. Learn the true story in our book. Read more
"The Spy of Shadow Hills -- Rumors or Reality" is true story about a German-born man named August Furst and his wife and two sons who arrived in the rural canyon now called Shadow Hills in Los Angeles in 1936.
The family purchased an orange grove and the hill behind it and built The Old Vienna Restaurant and Gardens. Within a month or two, rumors were abounding that he was a Nazi sympathizer -- a spy for Germany -- a member of the German-American Bund and a Fifth Columnist.
August Furst, his wife and sons have all died, but the rumors live on to this day. Investigative journalist/author/producer Don Ray heard the rumors when he was a kid in the 1950s. When he heard them again 30 years later, he decided to find the truth and write a story for a national magazine.
He obtained historical documents including the FBI's investigative files into the man, his wife and The Old Vienna Gardens. That was in 1985.
The magazine folded that year and Don Ray's research sat on the shelf for 30 years. This year, when his friends remodeled the old stone and wooden restaurant and cleaned up the once lush gardens, he decided it was time to update his research and get to the bottom of the story.
Was it true? Partly true? Or was it hysteria.
It was clearly a job for the non-profit he founded -- The Endangered History Project, Inc. He and some associates volunteered their time and resources to re-investigate the allegations using the modern resources that the Internet, social media and archives provide.
Before long, they were uncovering even more disturbing clues that involved not only August Furst and the restaurant, but neighbors and others as well. What was the involvement of people running the asylum next door? Who put up the giant cross that was painted red on the top of the hill? And who were the Ku Klux Klan members who frequented their "KKK Cross?"
For every fact that the team nailed down, more suspicious people showed up in the records -- and the investigation widened.
It all took place with the backdrop of the international, national and local events, fears, actions and hysteria of the 1930s.
And ironically, what the team has learned has astonishing parallels to what's happening in the world and in the United States today. Don Ray and his fellow volunteers have ventured back in time -- a time that few people alive today learned about in school.
The bigger story involves "the usual suspects" of the time -- the Japanese-Americans, German-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Dust Bowl refugees who all assembled in Southern California at a time the country was still struggling in the quicksand of The Great Depression and, at the same time, preparing for what seemed like an inevitable war.
And as the Communists, the Fascists and the Nazis were positioning themselves for the coming war in Europe, their agents were, indeed, trying to win the hearts and minds of the frightened citizens of the United States.
A lot of it played out in Los Angeles. It became a destination for defense plants workers, military personnel and others pouring in from everywhere to Los Angeles, the land of second chances.
Despite what people may have told you, it was not at all a melting pot.
August Furst and his family arrived at a time when people were scared -- and at a time they had every right to be suspicious.
Risks and challenges
The most obvious risk is the health and welfare of the author, Don Ray. He's healthy, but if lightening should strike in some fashion, the others associated with The Endangered History Project, would have the responsibility of either completing the project on their own or returning the money to the donors.
The other risk is that the project could be delayed. Someone famous once said that every writer needs to have two little people with hammers nearby -- one to beat you over the head to get you to start writing -- and the other to pound on you to make you stop.
The team is very aware of this dilemma and the members have hammers.
There are some Freedom of Information Act request still out, and nobody can predict when the FBI and other agencies will reply. We'll certainly have a date in mind when we proceed without the results -- fodder for a future edition.
There could be delays with the people who will print the book. We're already shopping for the best printer. Printers will tell you that there are three elements to a printing job -- price, quality and speed. The rule is that you can only have two of the three. We're first focusing on price and quality, but we'll be sure to monitor the speed.
- (30 days)