A beloved neighborhood landmark is leaving its Silver Lake location
The Sunset Foot Clinic is moving, and so is the two-sided sign known as Happy Foot Sad Foot that has spun from its high-profile perch on Sunset Boulevard for 37 years.
Just reading the news is like watching the famous sign rotate in real time. The clinic needs a bigger office (happy!), will be leaving its current location (sad!), is taking the sign with them (happy!), but the sign won’t spin anymore (sad!).
But the impending loss will be most acutely felt by a group of tight-knit neighbors in the immediate vicinity who use the sign to tell people where they live. Due to the fuzzy demarcations between Silver Lake and Echo Park, the neighbors started referring to their community as Happy Foot Sad Foot or, in full neighborhood-branding mode, HaFoSaFo. The designation was made quasi-official when the neighborhood social network Nextdoor dubbed the area “Sunset HaFoSaFo” on its LA map.
As two of those neighbors, Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, explained on their blog in 2010, living in HaFoSaFo also meant confronting the fact that the Sunset Foot Clinic might not be around forever.
The sign was broken for an extended period in 2010, which caused a great deal of anxiety among the neighbors. “In the old days it might have been a statue or the village oak or something,” wrote Coyne in the comments of the post. “The only problem, of course, is that now our icons are privately owned, and can vanish overnight. We worry about The Foot.”
Now HaFoSaFo’s era is over, but as Knutzen wrote in an update last week, he’s not as upset about the sign’s loss as he is about LA’s greater inability to create a sense of place. “I think our city needs to do better placemaking so we don’t have to look to podiatrist signs,” he tells me. “All we have is that pathetic Echo Park electronic sign on the eastern end of Sunset.”
According to Esotouric’s Kim Cooper, who has campaigned to protect other LA signs, what’s happening on HaFoSaFo corner is something called “affective ownership”—where the sign itself isn’t necessarily significant from a preservation perspective, but rather because of what it means to people. Part of its significance is its connection to the neighborhood. Is there an argument, I asked, for leaving the sign in place?
“Any attempt to preserve the sign in place would be reasonably opposed by the clinic’s owner—and would probably constitute an illegal billboard even if he wanted to leave it,” says Cooper. “Best case scenario might be for some kind of tribute mural to go up at the historic location, and for the clinic’s owner to be encouraged to install the spinning sign atop the new office so Angelenos can once again see what kind of day they’re going to have.”
Since January, Sunset Foot Clinic has had signs that feature miniature versions of the happy and sad feet at its new location, a wedge-shaped building in Rampart Village, one mile to the southwest. I suppose, given the unique flatiron-like quality of the building, the clinic could mount the sign atop the building where it would be easily seen on both sides, although the residents of the one side of the neighborhood would remain forever condemned to bad foot days.
As I walked from Sunset Boulevard to the new foot clinic’s location I realized the cruelest detail about the new location: It is among LA’s unfriendliest places for people on foot. The clinic sits a few blocks from the 101 freeway, in a tangle of three five-leg intersections, requiring multiple diagonal crossings of streets up to six lanes wide.
Drivers traveling too fast on these confusing highway-like streets are unlikely to have time to take in the nuances of a bloodshot-eyed sad foot leaning despondently on a crutch. Perhaps the Sunset Foot Clinic could make its presence felt in its new neighborhood by advocating for better pedestrian infrastructure. Happy feet crosswalks?
But despite those challenges, this block has a lot going for it when it comes to quirky local landmarks. Across Virgil, a giant chicken sits atop LA Fresh Poultry; on the other side of Beverly, there’s a horse on the El Potrillo taqueria. Whatever the owners decide to do with the sign, the feet will fit right in. The feet will be fine.
But as I walked back towards Sunset, I saw another neighborhood sign that needed help.
Where Silver Lake Boulevard laces below Temple, a large stone sign signifying the gateway to Historic Filipinotown had been tagged multiple times on its back and front. The triangle of city land that it sits on was strewn with trash, a dusty hilltop overgrown with weeds.
I thought about what Knutzen and Coyne said. We’re sad to lose spinning vinyl feet, weird 1960s architecture, mom-and-pop restaurants. But most of these local fixtures, as beloved as they may be, have become our neighborhood institutions because we don’t have enough actual shared spaces. Are we doing all we can to take care of the places that truly belong to the public? The real local landmarks?
We need more reminders of what history predates our presence. We need more streets that are designed to connect us instead of being fast-forwarded through in cars. We need more parks. We need more bus shelters. We need more actual village oaks.
Signs will come down, businesses will move, but it’s the places we create to welcome everyone that truly strengthen our neighborhoods. Let’s build more of them.