The Statue of Liberty of Los Angeles
A statue of a chicken-headed man holding a bucket of “the best chicken in town” keeps eternal vigil from his perch high above Figueroa Street in Highland Park.
For 14 years, the 22-foot-tall Chicken Boy been standing vigil above Figueroa Street in Highland Park. He’s been called the Statue of Liberty of Los Angeles and the Mayor of Highland Park, but his L.A. story goes back more than six decades when he started as the humble mascot of a fried-chicken restaurant that offered, as his bucket once read, the “best chicken in town.”
It’s been said he’s “too big to live, too weird to die” (which doesn’t really make any sense), and the tale of his journey through time and storage spaces of Los Angeles is one of love, perseverance, and triumph.
Chicken Boy: The Origin Story
Fried chicken has always been popular in Los Angeles, and for 20 years, the Chicken Boy restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles was the talk of the town. But wasn’t necessarily the chicken that got people talking about Chicken Boy — it was the mascot.
The story of Chicken Boy started when the original owner of the Chicken Boy Fried Chicken restaurant, a true Los Angeles visionary if there ever was one, bought a customized Muffler Man statue from the International Fiberglass Company in Venice, California. These statues, also known as Big Guys and Paul Bunyans, were constructed of fiberglass and polyester resin on steel frames. Their arms were positioned to hold mufflers, rocket ships, or — in the case of the Bunyans — axes. (Once you’ve seen one Muffler Man, you’ll start to notice them all over Los Angeles and along the Historic Route 66.)
But the statue that was soon to be Chicken Boy had his arms modified to hold a large bucket. Then the restaurant owner hired an artist to create Chicken Boy’s stylized head, complete with googly eyes, comb, wattles, and beak.
From sometime in the late 1960s until 1984, this fiberglass man with a chicken head stood above the Chicken Boy restaurant at 450 S. Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles, holding a bucket that advertised the “best chicken in town.”
The building still stands, and in the space above it there’s a large Chicken Boy-sized vacancy where the hero of our story once stood.
Chicken Boy: The Lost Years
When the Chicken Boy (the restaurant) shut down in 1984, artist and graphic designer Amy Inouye rescued Chicken Boy (the statue) from certain doom. She had permission from the owners to take Chicken Boy away, but she didn’t have the required permits from the city to remove him from his perch and transport a giant chicken-headed man through the streets of Los Angeles. So in a bit of pre-dawn civil disobedience, she and a group of friends moved Chicken Boy stealthily through the streets of L.A. on the back of a flatbed truck (with his head sitting indignantly between his legs).
And from there, he stayed in storage, moving him from garages to warehouses to back yards for the next 23 years.
Inouye wanted Chicken Boy to take his rightful place as a monument to Los Angeles. She looked for a public space where he could by placed on display for everyone to enjoy. But no one wanted him.
Finally, in true art rebel spirit, Inouye decided to just take care of providing Chicken Boy a permanent home herself.
While we’re on the topic of fried chicken mascots …
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Chicken Boy Hatches Again
In 2003, Inouye opened her Highland Park studio and gallery space, Future Studio Gallery, and its roof would be the perfect perch for Chicken Boy. She spent four years filling out a lot of paperwork, navigating the the Byzantine permitting process of Los Angeles, and raising money to reinforce the roof of her studio so it would hold Chicken Boy’s considerable bulk.
But finally, after 23 years of wandering through Los Angeles, Chicken Boy finally took to roost atop Future Studio on October 17, 2007.
The process of installing Chicken Boy was possible in part due to a surprising grant from the Office of City Beautification, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger, then Governor of California, recognized Chicken Boy’s appeal and granted the statue a Governor’s Historic Preservation Award in 2010.
Chicken Boy has become such an icon in the Highland Park neighborhood that he was included in the sidewalk mosaic at Figueroa and Avenue 56 installed in 2018.
Chicken Boy: The Movie
Inexplicably, Chicken Boy even has his own movie. It debuts way back in 1991 and even played on local television. A friend of mine actually had this on VHS, and now thanks to the miracles of modern technology, it’s available for viewing on YouTube. If you’re brave enough to watch the full 23 minutes, be aware it was made in 1991, and the humor is very much of that time.
- 5558 N Figueroa St., Highland Park
- GPS Coordinates: 34.108738, -118.194470 [ Google Maps ]
- what3words: ///dared.thick.panels
- Visit the Chicken Boy website