One Woman's Fight to Save a 22-Foot-Tall Fiberglass Chicken
Chicken Boy was Amy Inouye's best friend in Los Angeles—and though it took 23 years, nothing would stop her from saving him from certain doom.
Amy Inouye first met the fiberglass statue she calls Chicken Boy in the early 1970s. She had just moved to Los Angeles to attend the ArtCenter College of Design; Chicken Boy loomed above her school commute, the towering, 22-foot-tall mascot of an eponymous fried chicken restaurant in Downtown LA.
With the body of a strapping, Bunyan-esque man, the head of a cartoon chicken, and his goofy, cross-eyed gaze, Inouye came to find comfort in his hulking presence. "If he's OK, I'll be OK," she tells VICE she often thought to herself as she drove by her first true LA friend. He was an antidote to the sprawling metropolis, a fellow outsider watching over her from above.
Eventually, Inouye found her footing in Los Angeles, and once she graduated, she founded a graphic-design firm with college friends. Chicken Boy's comforting stare had proven correct: Everything was going to be OK here.
But one day, Inouye came to discover that her friend was in grave danger, and the only one who could save him was her.
In May, 1984, Inouye discovered that Chicken Boy's restaurant had gone out of business. She phoned the proprietors, who told her they intended to destroy the monument. After much pleading, Inouye was granted custody of her hero, but she only had a week to get him off the roof.
She quickly assembled a crack team of employees from her her design firm. They found sign-removal contractors willing to rescue Chicken Boy from his perch, but Inouye faced one obstacle: the City of Los Angeles. You can't rip a 22-foot-tall landmark off a public structure without permits, but bureaucracy takes time, and time was the last thing that Inouye had to spend.
It soon became clear: They weren't gonna get him off that roof without breaking a few laws first.
The streets were deserted on the morning of their hijack. Her sign contractors had planned it that way—this was a 3 AM raid that would forever change the Los Angeles skyline. They parked their truck outside the three-story building where Chicken Boy had roosted for years. Some gathered blow torches; others manned the crane. They worked quickly, eager to complete their mission before dawn.
Three hours later, Chicken Boy was safe and sound on the back of a flatbed truck.
Now she needed to find him a new home, a process that would take more than 23 years. But nothing would stop her from making her dream come true. Come hell or high water, Chicken Boy would once again brighten the smog-tufted skyline of Los Angeles.
For the next 17 years, Chicken Boy sat in storage while Amy lobbied every last park, art museum, and city space to give her friend a home. Her heart was broken over and over as each rejected her meticulously drafted proposal for Chicken Boy's installation. Then, shortly after the turn of the millennium, after mercilessly denying Chicken Boy a home, the city had the gall to greenlight a public-art project called A Community Of Angels, where 400 fiberglass angels were installed around LA.
To Inouye, there was room for just one fiberglass guardian angel in LA, and that was Chicken Boy. And if you fucked with Chicken Boy, you fucked with Amy Inouye.
She assembled a guerrilla team of 25 friends, family members, and fans for an art project of their own, one that would peck a clear message into the minds of the officials who had slighted her idol. They convened at 6 AM on May 9, 2001. The rebels used no guns; chicken beaks were their only weapon. That morning, they descended upon those fiberglass angels with fervor, affixing beaks to sculptures across Los Angeles.
"This was done as an art project on behalf of Chicken Boy," Inouye later explained to the Los Angeles Times. "He is, after all, the original as well as the quintessential guardian angel of downtown LA."
Emotions run high in times of war, and Inouye soon found herself in love with a fellow revolutionary. Stuart was a handsome insurgent brought to Inouye's group by a friend of a friend. It turned out she did have room in her heart for another man—this one wholly human.
Though their art attack garnered press coverage, it did not earn Chicken Boy a home, so Inouye decided to buy him one herself. Stuart joined the hunt, and in 2003, the couple found a home for their mutant-fowl son: a 2,300 square foot commercial space in the neighborhood of Highland Park. The building would serve as an office for Inouye's company, with a sturdy, flat roof on which Chicken Boy could perch.
Inouye still needed approval to mount Chicken Boy, and she couldn't do it alone. Inouye called world-famous structural engineer Melvyn Green, who had overseen the seismic strengthening of the Golden Gate Bridge. He'd spent his career contemplating mass destruction, and Chicken Boy provided much-needed comic relief. Green visited Inouye's building, inspected the roof, and took measurements. Before long, he fell in love with Chicken Boy himself.
Green drafted blueprints while Inouye began a grassroots campaign to erect her bizarro monument. She solicited support from every community group in Highland Park, carting her proposal to Highland Park Heritage Trust, the Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, Historic Neighborhood Council, and more. Then she had to navigate a Kafkaesque maze of bureaucracy from the Building & Safety Department. Finally, she spent weeks applying for a City Community Beautification Grant. Chicken Boy's installation required a significant amount of money, but Inouyefeared he was too weird for an organization that typically financed murals and civic gardens. But Chicken Boy's unique LA history resonated with the committee. To her shock, Inouye was awarded the grant.
On October 16, 2007, the installation began. What had taken 23 years was over in three easy days. Chicken Boy came home to roost, and Inouye's dream was finally realized.
"But why?" I ask Inouye, when I visit her at Chicken Boy's home. "Why devote so much time to a chicken that can't thank you?"
"Because it's fun," Inouye said. "This is America, and America is about weird stuff on the road. These things exist, and people love them. That's what it comes down to: It's fun."
I follow her up a set of wrought iron stairs as she opens the hatch to the roof. I climb through, gain my footing and turn to face Chicken Boy.
Faced with his cartoonish visage up close, I find it impossible not to laugh. He is, as Inouye insists, fun.
"He just got a fresh coat of paint," Inouye announces, beaming proudly.
"It looks great," I say.
Chicken Boy stands silent, a googly-eyed sentinel determined to keep Los Angeles dreaming for just a little longer.