Monday, November 22, 2010
The Hollywood Freeway chickens are a colony of feral chickens that live under the Vineland Avenue off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway (U.S. Route 101) in Los Angeles, California. It is not definitively known how they came to be there.
 Origins and backgrounds
Chickens underneath the Vineland off-ramp became local celebrities upon their arrival sometime around 1970. Some residents appreciated the offbeat flavor they brought to the metropolitan area. Commuters on the highway would sometimes provide them aid by tossing food out their windows as they drove by. However, there were also many citizens who found them to be a nuisance. In the late 1970s, the Department of Animal Regulation responded to those opposing the chickens by removing nearly a hundred of the hens and roosters and relocating them to a ranch in Simi Valley, California. But not every member of the flock was apprehended, and those that remained spawned a new population. Subsequent removal efforts in the following years all had a similar outcome.
Beginning in the 1990s, twenty years after the colony's arrival, various individuals started coming forward claiming to know the mystery of their origin. Among them:
In 1990, Jeff Stein of Granada Hills, California claimed that in 1968, when his wife Janet and her twin sister were 12, they learned that a nearby school that raised animals was closing and that its resident chickens would be killed. The twins scooped them up and succeeded in hiding them at home until the roosters started waking up every morning at 5 a.m. The chickens couldn't stay, so the girls hiked through a field to an open area near the freeway and deposited two pillowcases full of them there.
In 1992, a North Hollywood man who would give only his first name ("Michael") claimed that as a child he and his brother put their pet chickens under the freeway after neighbors repeatedly complained about them. "We were afraid to confess after (their numbers) got out of hand because we thought the city would bill us", he said.
And the widely believed, but never verified explanation about an overturned poultry truck on the freeway resurfaced in 2000 when Joe Silbert of Laguna Hills, California claimed to be the driver of the legendary vehicle, saying, "I tried to avoid a lady who cut in front of me and I turned over. I was taking anywhere from 500 to 1,000 chickens back from the Valley to a slaughterhouse in L.A. They were all hens. We never picked up roosters. These were hens that had stopped laying. They would eat but not produce, so they were costing farmers money. Anyway, I had a crate of eggs on the seat beside me, and when I turned over, my head fell into the crate. But I wasn't hurt. I started chasing one chicken and it was on the TV news that night." A colony of hens no longer laying eggs would naturally not be able to renew itself, making this explanation rather dubious.
Nevertheless, there was at least one witness to the overturned poultry truck explanation. A driver on the way to work in Glendale was proceeding south on the 5 Freeway when she spotted three cars off to the side of the road that had been involved in a multiple rear-end collision. Blood and feathers were all over the freeway. On the overpass right above the accident site was a truck loaded with poultry cages, and each cage contained multiple chickens. Below, on the freeway, a smashed poultry cage was off to one side, and chickens could be seen walking around in the freeway meridian (which did not have walls at the time).
This peculiar chapter of Los Angeles history was going to be commemorated in 1984 with a large mural painted along the north wall of the Hollywood Freeway (link to the mural), but was ultimately rejected for funding and not completed.
The "freeway chickens" remain a quirky part of the L.A. urban landscape to this day.