Chicken Corner is the name of a place that does and does not exist, which puts it right in league with a web “site” that’s all about a neighborhood. Technically, Chicken Corner sits at Echo Park Avenue and Delta Street, across from the Magic Gas gas station and Morton Avenue. For generations, this crossroads has been one of the nerve centers of the neighborhood. It has been a gang hangout, a drug market, an art gallery scene and now a fashion/indie rock scene, as well as a place where a lot of families have lived. Not everyone in the area knows or accepts the name Chicken Corner.
The place I call Chicken Corner is named after an Aaron Donovan mural that showed a bunch of unusual chickens. Hard-eyed chickens, one of them in leather, multicolored, painted in 1997 or ’98 without a permit (I assume – but don’t quote me on that) and occasionally tagged and otherwise assaulted. (At one point someone tossed about a quart of tan paint over it and at least one of the chickens disappeared forever.) The mural was titled, forgettably, “Moron.” When the Chango coffee house opened in 2004, its owners blasted out the mural in order to create a window on the side of the building. A two-foot-wide (a guess) sliver of the mural remains on the building. Other pieces of it are mounted inside the coffee house in a sort of mosaic homage-slash-apology to the people who wanted the mural to stay. The day the chickens were blasted, neighborhood folks grabbed pieces of it. There are shards at homes all around the neighborhood. I have two in my yard, though I didn’t get there fast enough to nab anything recognizeable. By then the name Chicken Corner had been well-established for four or five years.
In the late 1990s, Aaron Donovan, and his partner ran the Delirium Tremens art Gallery, which was one of five storefront galleries at the base of the Del Mor apartment building facing Echo Park Avenue. The mural was painted on cinderblock on the Delta Street side of the building. It faced an open lot where chickens and goats lived. At one point, it was called a ranch – there was said to be a horse. This lot has been sold twice. Condominiums will be built there soon.
The gallery scene was fast and furious. It arrived in 1998 with the opening of Ojala Gallery, which was followed by Fototeka, Delirium Tremens and others. A handbag studio sometimes hung shows to coincide with group openings, there was a clothing store, Show Pony, which remains, and for a while there was a tiny book store. Group openings took place the first Saturday of each month, and drew hundreds of people from outside the neighborhood as well as within. (Disclaimer: I wrote press releases for Fototeka Gallery for about three years.) Ojala Gallery sold “Chicken Corner” T-shirts. The galleries put chairs out on the sidewalk, and on weekends people visited during the day and hung out.
By 2003, all of the galleries were leaving soon or gone. A couple of them moved to other locations. Now the storefronts are occupied by a salon and several boutiques as well as El Batey, the grocery store that was cut in half to allow space for the coffee house. Chango now is the hipster ground zero of the neighborhood, groovier than the gallery days – almost alienatingly so, to my surprise -- but still a place where I run into neighbors.
Recently, a friend of mine walked into Chango. He was wearing a Chicken Corner T-shirt. The clerk, standing behind the chicken mural mosaic, looked at the T-shirt and asked, “Where is Chicken Corner?”
Photo: Cindy Bennett