By NATHAN SOLIS
Artist Amy Inouye is an agent of change, with tangible results that light up her neighborhood. As a graphic designer Inouye spends most of her days working out of Future Studio, her gallery space on Figueroa Street. She also spearheaded a grassroots campaign to relight two historic business signs that fell into disrepair, which can now be seen from all around Highland Park.
But there’s one other thing that stands out about Future Studio and Inouye. She also managed to convince an entire neighborhood to adopt a giant chicken. Yes, that chicken or Chicken Boy to be precise.
How did you come into the possession of a giant, anthropomorphic chicken?
We saw that that restaurant was boarded up and I said that we have to save the statue. After a couple of months of this they said for us to come and get it, but really quickly. Like right away. So we just went and did it. It was just too hilarious in a way to not see it through. Our idea was that he was public art, and he was part of the fabric of Los Angeles, sort of the Golden Years of road side L.A. We started to give proposals to museums, public plazas, and maybe they would be able to maintain him and appreciate him. We were basically ignored, turned down, really ignored. You name it. We just had to do it so fast. When we first said, “Yes, let’s save Chicken Boy,” we had gotten on this conveyor belt that we could not get off of.
Was it a tough sell to convince Highland Park that it was going to be the home of Chicken Boy?
When we moved here we didn’t really know the area or the neighborhood. We found the building and we knew very little about. I had spent most of my L.A. time in Korea Town. We joined Heritage Trust and got involved. Since I’m a graphic designer I volunteered to do all this work for them. The plan was to get them to like us, so when we said we want to put this big guy on top of the roof they would find it a hard time to say no to our face. But all of a sudden my husband and I fell in love with everybody and the character of the neighborhood. Most of the people we spoke with really didn’t feel strongly one way or the other. Sometimes they would say, “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem, but Blah Blah Blah is going to have a problem.”
You didn’t stop there. You also helped relight the Manning’s Coffee sign and the Highland Theater sign. Were those as difficult?
At that time my biggest partner with projects was Nicole Possert and we would commiserate on what we could do for the neighborhood with the Heritage Trust and the North Figueroa Association. The Manning sign was our way in. For years it was completely black and hard to read. We found out about Manning’s history and it was fascinating. It was a coffee company in Seattle in Park Place right where Starbucks started. This was in the 1908 they were coffee roasters and they sold packaged roasters and then they opened their own coffee shops. Then we found out that this is probably one of the only existing Manning’s signs in existence – it’s a sign from 1930s, at the time neon was kind of new and the part that says Coffee Store is opal glass.
How are you receiving the change on Figueroa that seems to be creeping through the neighborhood?
I think what we’ve done is appreciated in regards to the historical aspect, the Route 66 preservation. The foot traffic in L.A. has always been nice, but now it’s a bit more, with a whole different face on the street. It’s all very diverse. The thing I notice most of all is since my office is in the front of the building and I sometimes work late here since the Greyhound opened there is a lot more foot traffic at night and I notice that people talk really loud. You know how the street traffic sort of dies down after 9 p.m. There’s really no one else around. It’s just me and them. I can hear every word for a block. It’s not big groups either, because I can tell it’s a handful of people having a conversation. Though the Greyhound owners are really good neighbors, really community oriented. So we got lucky there.
Figueroa also seems to be getting an influx of boutique establishments now. Are you concerned for the character of the neighborhood?
Good question. There are a lot of rumors floating around about the empty storefronts along Figueroa. So the dollar stores are being replaced with fancy food shops. That’s always the rumor that that’s what will go in. Everybody is kind of scared. All the older businesses could get priced out. Plus also the character could go. When all of this started to happen, with all these changes, we were happy to be ignored. We’re just going to keep trying to improve the fabric that’s already in place.
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.