Honey looks up at The Unsheltered Chicken

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March 1, 2012 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)

I walked with friends towards Mac Arthur Park, once called Westlake Park down Alvarado, which was a noisy and dismal experience in glaring and pitiless sunlight.Along the route, I went into what I thought was a Japanese restaurant to buy a bottle of water.

Maybe it is a Japanese restaurant but it is a fast food restaurant with the calorie counts listed above the service counter. Noodles and chicken: 2,100 calories. Add a large fountain soda – 250 calories and a slice of pie – 600 calories. Most of the people inside the restaurant shouted episodically at someone invisible, and they weren’t wearing ear pods. If they eat there twice a day, the calorie load is about 6,000 calories a day. Perhaps this is a Mac Arthur Park anomaly: these particular residents need a lot of calories because they are homeless people and it gets cold at night outdoors. learned that two bean burritos were 2,000 calories.

Westlake Park started with a zanja or water ditch that carried water to Angelenos. Actually, it started with woolly mammoths, saber tooth cats, dire wolves and camels, but those inhabitants were gone by the time California became one of the States. In the mid 1800s the area was a wetland. It became a city dump. Private money turned it into a park in 1887. By the 1890s, it was a place to go on vacationand luxury hotels surrounded it. At the beginning of the 20th century the park area was called the Champs-Élysées of Los Angeles. People rode boats and sat on benches in the shade and listened to concerts played in a band shell. General Harris Gray Otis, founder of the Los Angeles Times, built a house next to the lake. There is a statute of him as a soldier standing on a rock with his arm out straight as if saying either “Thither” or “Arrest those union agitators”and it stands next to a statue of a newsboy. Isaac van Nuys built a house there. Oilman G. Allen Hancock – whose real estate holdings became Hancock Park – built a house there.

Henry Gaylord Wilshire bought the park in 1895 for $52,000. Wilshire Boulevard used to end at the lake. After a while, it became a draw for gangs, murderers, drug dealers, and identity-theft traders.

I don’t think it’s that bad anymore but a couple of years ago CSUN’s sustainability instructors sent students from the valley into the park and then left almost immediately after arriving when a mugger tackled an old woman right near them.

Included in the park art is the MacArthur Monument, which is a figure of Mac Arthur as an officer. The text to the left of him says, “”Battles are not won by arms alone/There must exist above all a/Spiritual impulse – a will to victory/In War there can be substitute but victory.” Whatever that means.

There is a giant red lozenge with bumps supported by a tall metal stand called The Big Candy (1987 by Franco Assetto). Prometheus Bringing Fire to Earth (1934 by Nina Saemundson) is a well-designed statute but I bet a lot of people who live in the bushes in front of the Mac Arthur monument don’t know who Prometheus was. There is also a Hungarian Fighters Memorial in Joszef Cardinal Mindszenty Square, the northeast corner, the Clock tower-monument to Unknown (1987) George Herms looks like mines – the kind to blow up ships – and a bent metal stack with a broken clock on it.

Across the street from the park is a chicken that wears a sombrero. It is on top of something called the PolloCampero, which means something like “the unsheltered chicken” or possibly “the chicken familiar with the outdoors. “ A chicken familiar with the outdoors is a fitting mascot for those living in the Mac Arthur monument bushes.

I Googled“PolloCampero.” It is the largest fast food chain in the continent. It is one of the world’s largest fast food chains in the chicken market. A Guatemalan businessman founded it in 1971. There are 200 PolloCampero restaurants in the United States. On November 14, 2007, PolloCampero signed a deal with Wal-Mart to open outlets in selected Wal-Marts.

There are 46 reviews for Westlake’s PolloCampero on Yelp.

It doesn’t take reservations. It doesn’t have delivery. It doesn’t have waiters. Kids can eat there. One reviewer said the chicken was greasy and soggy and hopes there is better chicken in Guatemala. The sides are meh. The restaurantdoesn’t have water so don’t ask for it. Another reviewer said not to go to PolloCampero in Westlake unless everything else is destroyed on the earth and it is the only place left.

I asked my friend Otelia de la Cruz Jesus about PolloCampero. She says lots of people love the restaurant but she doesn’t.

Echo Park historian Sue Borden took the photograph ofPollo Loco that accompanies this journey through Westlake.

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