Crazy bread! Pioneer Chicken in Echo Park to become a Little Caesars pizza
Echo Park is losing one of its most notable landmarks. The Eastsider LA reports that the humble Pioneer Chicken stand, which closed quietly last March and has stood vacant since, will be turned into a Little Ceasars pizza parlor.
The news saddens me. I think every Echo Park resident had a relationship with the stand and its neighbor the bustling Pioneer Market, which was wrestled into submission and occupied by a Walgreens years ago (although I do appreciate the easy access to Hawaiian Tropic deep tanning oil and zebra-print hair scrunchies).
My affection for the stand blossomed three years ago when I lived in a tiny studio apartment above Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue. After work I would spin old Tammy Wynette records, drink whiskey, stare out the window and sob uncontrollably. Don't get me wrong, though, I kind of enjoyed being gloomy and self-indulgent. It fit my romantic I've-fallen-on-hard-times vision of life in a shabby walk-up apartment (albeit one with with remarkably attractive moulding).
Through my dusty window I could see the Nos. 2 and 4 buses speeding to and from downtown; the fruit cart vendors skillfully chopping juicy watermelon, jicama and cantaloupe; the obese old man with the '80s-style ghetto blaster who made the bus bench his home; and the drunks, lottery junkies and twentysomethings in Day-Glo muscle shirts and stretch pants rotating in and out of House of Spirits Liquors.
But the king of my maudlin view was without a doubt the beaten, weathered exterior of Pioneer Chicken. There was something about it -- its white brick exterior, stained with soot; its diminutive horseshoe drive-thru; its crudely advertised specials; and its iconic sign featuring a jovial, portly chef in a covered wagon, wearing a red bandanna and proudly hoisting a piece of mouthwatering, golden fried chicken -- that spoke to the essence of the neighborhood and its history.
It was rough and tumble, it was homey, it was a bit noir, and staring at it made my tears slightly sweeter and the whiskey I was sipping burn all the better. Had I been looking out at the polished laminate windows of a Little Caesars franchise, with its cartoon Roman emperor slurping bad cheese pizza off some kind of spear, I would have likely fallen into an actual depression, instead of a sentimental one.
This new development bodes poorly for Echo Park's future. Is Barragan's doomed to become a Cheesecake Factory and 50/50 Video a Blockbuster?
-- Jessica Gelt
Photos: Top: In brighter days, Lisa Katnic-Nikolic kisses Pioneer Chicken drive-thru attendant Francisco Villalobos as a teammate gets photographic evidence for the L.A. Scavenger Hunt at Echo Park Lake in August 2008. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times. Bottom: The Pioneer Chicken sign. Credit: The Guide