One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in L.A. two years ago was the fantastic variety of signs cluttering the visual landscape. A great tradition of Latin American hand-painted sign-making is alive and well here, alongside crappy vinyl-cut placards advertising hastily opened pot shops, faded banners hanging off the side of dilapidated neighborhood nurseries, and the ubiquitous yellow production company arrow signs. The feel was more akin to the low-brow stuff I'd seen in Miami, as opposed to the potent melange of graffiti and deli sandwich collages I had come to love in New York. I did what I know and started a new Tumblr of pictures of signs I took with my phone.
I also took a cursory flip though Robert Venturi's Learning from Las Vegas, which drove home the point that you need big signs in a land when your shop window gazing is done through a windshield at 60mph. I moved to Highland Park and came upon our local icon Chicken Boy. Around that same time, I heard a great interview with Bill Griffith, creator of the Zippy comic strip, and checked out a bunch of old collections from the library. As a twelve year old reading the strip, I hadn't noticed Griffith's notes in the margins, explaining that neighborhood preservationists were using the nationally syndicated strip as a platform, sending him letters in hopes that he'd send Zippy to converse with their favorite local icons that were often sadly neglected or being more directly threatened by developers.
L.A.'s ambiguity or lack of central identity can make it an alienating place to live, but it can also be very rewarding. Producing The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. Architecture this summer was a fantastic excuse to explore the city and it's many histories, this past century in particular. I was struck by how actively the individuals and institutions I came across in my work seemed to be engaged in 'rediscovering' L.A.'s recent past, extracting its stories, values, and lessons for today and trying to cement it into the collective memory. Sure, some of it is just another way to re-brand the city and sell tickets, but after having lived in places seemingly drenched in history and meaning, it feels refreshing and encouraging to be in a place that is not only up for grabs to 'make it,' but to look back into the past and try to reexamine that, too.
Kevin lives up Sunset from the Foot Clinic sign and first explained to me the sign's supposed predictive powers - when you drive by, the side you see first, happy or sad, will predict the fate of your day. From what I've read, people will also use it as a coin flip. Naturally I was attracted to the sign for it's big production value and anthropomorphized feet dudes, who are doing a great sell on a banal service. But I was also impressed that the sign had gained its local lore in less than 20 years of existence, and everyone seemed to know.
It seems like a good time to immortalize the Happy Foot Sad Foot sign. For now it can help those outside of the greater Silverlake / Echo Park neighborhood with their fate prediction needs, and spin in memory of all the great, chintzy, vernacular forgotten L.A. signs that have gone the way of the bulldozer. It can also be a form of insurance against our spotty collective memory, which sometimes leaves history in its wake. I guess the Happy Food Sad Foot sign is more of a folk tale than a chapter in a history textbook, so perhaps this site can help us keep telling the story.
August 18th, 2013______
Website and animation: Ian Byers-Gamber
3D modeling: Dwyer Kilcollin
Inspiration: Kevin Driscoll