Early this morning, a group of preservationists helped Antje Hasselbarth honor her husband Otto one final time. The two had run the La Palma Chicken Pie Shop in Anaheim for nearly 45 years until he died in his sleep last July. Ever since, an outpouring of customer support had come from across the country, with loyal eaters wanting to know when the iconic, Googie-era spot with the fabulous chicken pot pie and the best German chocolate cake around would open again.
But for the Hasselbarth family, the Chicken Pie Shop closed with the passing of their patriarch. And with a new tenant not fully committed to keeping the restaurant's aesthetic, Antje asked the Museum of Neon Art (MONA) in Glendale to try and save the Chicken Pie Shop's iconic neon sign, a towering hen that has illuminated Euclid Street since the place opened in the 1950s and is as much a part of the Anaheim skyline as the Big A and the Disneyland Matterhorn.
"My husband would've liked it," Antje said. "This was his whole life. He'd show up at 3 in the morning, bake all day, go home at 1 in the afternoon for a nap, then return to close. I never realized how much this restaurant meant to people."
Only problem: MONA didn't have the funds or space to take the full sign, which easily measured 15 feet high and nearly the same across. But thanks to an anonymous donor, MONA was able to arrange for at least the saving of the chicken and the "La Palma" portion of the sign.
"The whole thing is about honoring Otto," said Eric Lynxwiler, a member of MONA's Board of Trustees. Lynxwiler praised the chicken—"It's a figural sign. That's a rarity nowadays."
Lynxwiler, noted preservationist Daniel Paul, MONA chair Adriene Biondo, and Hasselbarth and a family friend, gathered in the Chicken Pie Shop's parking lot at 5 in the morning to wait for workers from the Williams Sign Co., a multi-generational family business in operation since 1930. The company brought two cherry pickers to examine the sign, and figure out a plan of attack. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, they un-welded one part of the sign from one pole and chopped off the other one.
With a quick tug, the sign was slowly lifted off and brought to the ground by a pulley. Gawkers slowed down on Euclid to take photos. One woman was getting gas at the nearby ARCO when she saw the commotion. She grabbed her professional camera, rushed to the scene, and began snapping away. "I grew up nearby here," the redhead said. "This is a part of history."
As the sign was finally brought to the ground, the preservationists checked its condition. "Just one [neon] tube missing," Lynxwiler said. "This sign is in amazing condition."
"I'm not a fan of carving the chicken," Biondo said, in one of many hen-related puns uttered this morning. "It's sad to see these signs go down. But we're happy to give it a home."
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But what's going to happen to the rest of the sign? Hasselbarth wants to preserve it all, but the new tenants aren't going to be selling chicken pot pies, so she wants it to go a good home. But MONA doesn't have the space or funds for the rest of it. Lynxwiler expressed hope that Orange County-based historical societies might raise funds to take what's left of the sign. (or, you can always donate to MONA and ask them to make a return trip.)
But at least the chicken part of the La Palma Chicken Pie Shop's sign is saved. And with it, another part of Old Orange County can rest at ease...