Save the Foot! Save Lost Words!

A neighbor has stepped up, so to speak, with a petition to save our neighborhood’s iconic Happy Foot Sad Foot sign.

The Sunset Foot Clinic on Sunset and Benton Way is moving, and the iconic rotating Happy Foot Sad Foot sign is currently slated to come down at the end of August when the clinic moves.

The sign was installed in 1985 and has become a Southern California icon. One of the last signs grandfathered to rotate in Los Angeles, locals claim that it can tell the future – or at least whether the observer is going to have a good (Happy Foot) or bad (Sad Foot) day, depending on which side they see first.

Featured in several novels and multiple songs and videos, as well inspiring the HaFoSaFo nickname of its surrounding area, the Happy Foot Sad Foot sign is a Silver Lake original, and a Los Angeles cultural resource to be preserved.

In the 1990s, the LA Department of Cultural Affairs saved, landmarked and restored many signs across Los Angeles. Landmarking now falls under the jurisdiction of the Cultural Heritage Commission via the Office of Historic Resources within the LA Planning Department.

We ask that:

(1)  Council District 13 and the Cultural Heritage Commission support designating the sign an Historic Cultural Monument to preserve it in place; and

(2)  the owners of the site incorporate the current sign into their plans for a new restaurant on site.

Please sign to help keep the Happy Foot Sad Foot sign prognosticating for all Angelenos – current and future – and may all your days be Happy Foot!

Put your best foot forward and sign the petition here.

Lost Words
Reader fjorlief inhaga left a link to a Brain Pickings blog post on the Oxford children’s dictionary’s ham-fisted decision to replace words such as fern, willow, and starling with modern abominations such as broadband and cut and paste. Brain Pickings notes a response by author Robert MacFarlane’s and children’s book illustrator Jackie Morris that resulted in an elegant “wild dictionary” called The Lost Words: A Spell Book (public library). And, thanks to Brain Pickings, I now know how to link to books via your local public library.

Seat Weaving for Fun and Profit

I finished the last step of that quirky C.F.A. Voysey chair this week: fiber rush weaving. Even if you never build a chair from scratch, mastering seat weaving opens up a whole world of thrift store furniture rescue. I remember seeing a nice ladderback chair in a San Diego thrift store last year in great shape but in need of a new seat. Learn to weave your own seat and you could easily encircle your dining room table with a nice set of inexpensive, second-hand chairs. Seat weaving ain’t rocket science and it’s a whole lot more useful than sending idiots to mars.

Traditionally, this type of woven seat was made with cordage harvested from water plants. Beginning in the early 20th century, in the U.S., most rush seats were made from a rush substitute called fiber rush which is made out of spun paper, the same paper used for grocery bags. This is what I used since it’s cheaper, lasts longer and is easier to work with. Fiber rush comes in a light and dark color. I used the light color. It also comes in thicknesses between 1/8″ and 3/8″. I used the 3/16″ thickness to match the type on the original chair. I ordered it from Frank’s Cane and Rush Supply for $9.75 for a two pound coil, which is just about enough for one chair. I ordered two, 2-pound rolls since I correctly anticipated making some mistakes the first time and I’m planning on making more of these chairs.

I found a helpful seat weaving tutorial on YouTube by Ed Hammond a.k.a. Peerless Rattan. Hammond has sixteen videos on how to weave and cane a variety of chairs. Please note that in addition to ladderback chairs there’s a lot of mid-century Scandinavian chairs that have a slightly different kind of woven seat. Learning to weave Scando chairs will lead you to the “profit” promise in this blog headline as you help supply all the Silver Lake Shamans with refurbished mid-century thrones from which to enjoy a $15 juice while Instagraming their house plants.

Most chairs narrow at the back and you have to account for that when weaving the seat. Hammond shows this first step at the beginning of the video. My chair is square which allowed me to skip this first step. It’s also woven on a frame that fits into the seat. This is convenient in that I was able to weave the seat from the comfort of the vise of my work bench. But I don’t think a ladderback chair would be much more difficult–you just have to straddle it as you weave and remember to peek at the back periodically to make sure you’re not making any mistakes.

Sloppy first attempt on left and improved second try on right.

I’ll send you to Hammond’s oddly soothing video for the details of how to weave the chair. It’s easier to show than to describe in words but I’ll add a few lessons learned. Most importantly, take your time and make sure that each strand is tight and straight as you weave the chair. It’s not a race. Stop frequently to tap the cords straight with a hammer and wooden wedge. If you make a mistake, go back and fix it before proceeding. You can clamp off the cord with a spring clamp in order to take a break or straighten out the lines.

There’s apparently some disagreement over the need to pre-moisten the fiber rush in the chair weaving community but I found wetting the cord with a spray bottle made it easier to bend over the frame. Towards the end of the weaving process you fill the voids under the fiber rush with pieces of corrugated cardboard, being careful to put the writing side down.

When complete, I gave the fiber two coats of shellac in case someone spills a beverage. I’m also hoping that I didn’t spend many hours making an elaborate cat scratcher but so far there’s been no feline interest.

Let me also note that this skill is basketry adjacent. Learn seat weaving or basketry and you’ve got a witty, skill boasting riposte to those who suggest you “learn to code.”

Relax and Enjoy the Soft Caress of the Fun Fur

I realized that I never got around to posting photos of our completed living room so step on in!

Alas, the shag lined Root Simple headquarters exists only conceptually. While I’m just old enough to remember the era from whence these photos from the book Creating modern furniture : trends, techniques, appreciation (1975) originate, they seem like artifacts from some alien planet, perhaps the one depicted in Barbarella. Water damage from the Los Angeles Central Library fires of the 1980s only adds to the otherness of these images.

At the risk of sparking inter-generational snark warfare, let’s take a look at some more:

This blog post would have been so much better had it been written whist enthroned on this bucket seat/bookshelf combo.

After writing said blog post I could rest my laurels on this foam lounging thing. But how to exit the foam loungy thingy in a dignified manor?

Maybe I’d be better off pondering my poor dental hygiene.

This looks like a bar stool from one of those lesser, final season, 1960s Star Trek episodes.

For the young folks, driftwood furniture was the 1970s equivalent of today’s ubiquitous live edge river table. Driftwood was mandatory prior to 1980. At the very least you had a driftwood coffee table. Only the upper crust had a driftwood throne like this one.

Who knew you could make a kid burrito with 70s fiber art? I do like the idea of sleepable art.

This kid, however, looks terrified and/or trapped in her 70s sculptural play environment.

Someone please suggest the right prog rock concept album to listen to in this chair.

You’ll need to relax after the terrifying dinner party.

Lastly, yes this is Frank Gehry.

I’ve Been Working on This Chair When I Should Be Doing Other Things

Having a degree in music and being a fan of Wagner’s operas means that I get to drop the word Gesamtkunstwerk in casual conversation around the house. Most often translated as “total work of art” it has, when applied to architecture, come to mean a control freak fantasy of designing everything in the house down to the paperclips.

The English architect C.F.A. Voysey (1857-1941) caught the Gesamtkunstwerk fever early in his life and drew up all furnishings down to the desk accessories in the houses he designed for clients. When I spotted some of the quirky chairs he produced in the years before WWI, I knew I wanted to set about replacing the random dining room chairs in our living room with a sextet of Voysey’s “One-Heart” chairs. I liked the strange devil-like horns, the fuddy-duddy heart, and the odd hexagonal, tapered legs. Voysey used the heart motif almost to excess in his work, so much so that his client H.G. Wells made him invert the symbol to make a spade.

I’m almost finished with the prototype that I based on a photo and from a measured drawing of one of Voysey’s “Two-Heart” chairs, by woodworker Nancy Hiller. The last step will be to weave a rush seat insert. Thankfully Los Angeles hosts not one, but two caning and rush seat supply shops–Franks Cane and Rush Supply and Cane and Basket.

Voysey’s original chair has an eye-catching dovetailed back splat. While aesthetically pleasing the design is a woodworking no-no as it involves grain tied together in two different directions with no allowance for wood movement. On most of the originals, unsurprisingly, the back has split. I omitted the dovetails in my Voysey chair remix opting for an unglued mortise instead. This small detail illustrates why designers and craftspeople need to be in dialog with each other.

Voysey said, “To produce healthy art one must have healthy surroundings; the first effort an artist should make is to sweep ugliness from him.” In our degraded and utilitarian times I’ve come to the insight that the pursuit of beauty is a good thing in itself and a moral obligation. Have a look around our cities and the places we live and work and you’ll see a whole lot of ugly. How depressing that art and music are some of the first things on the austerity chopping block. In our homes and communities we need to start sweeping away the ugliness and get to beautifying. We need to stop telling our children and young people that art is a waste of time. We need to plant gardens, make music and build happy, healthy and beautiful places to live and work.

Sad foot sign, the end is comin’

News arrived this week that the rotating podiatrist sign that gives our Los Angeles neighborhood its identity will move and no longer rotate. Several years ago Kelly and I decided to help promote the idea of calling our disputed border region, located between the neighborhoods of Silver Lake and Echo Park, “Happy Foot Sad Foot” or “HaFoSaFo” for short.

Kelly detailed, in a 2010 blog post, the many cultural references to the sign including a novel by Jonathan Lethem.  A reader pointed to a song by the Eels. Later we found out that David Foster Wallace used the sign in his posthumously published novel, The Pale King. Allow me to digress for a moment to note that the longest half hour of my life was the time I was part of a film crew interviewing Wallace. He had an epic, paranoid freakout as soon as we started taping and it took most of that half hour to calm him down and assure him that his thoughts would not be taken our of context. He kept staring into the lens and repeatedly asking, “Who is going to edit this?” Once calmed, he went on to have a reasonable discussion about David Lynch. But back to the Foot. In The Pale King, while he references the sign, though moves its location to Chicago.

Many of the bards that frequent our hiptsery ‘hood have sung tributes to the Foot. There’s a song by Yacht animated by Mike Hollingsworth:

And the aforementioned Eels:

Sad foot sign, why you gotta
Taunt me this way
The happy side is broken now
It’s gonna be an awful day

And if I have to drive back by
To see from a different side
Would it be enough to say
The first time was a lie?

Sad foot sign, the end is comin’
That’s what they say
Maybe you could, see it in
Your heart for one day

To let me feel what it’s about
To really be alive
To live and breathe
And see and feel, then I can die

And when I come back to this room
I’ll put on a uniform
And go into, the foot sign shop
Where you were born

In the comments to Kelly’s original foot post, readers contributed neighborhood defining commercial signage from other parts of the U.S. including the Frederick, Maryland’s Freeze King:

The demented sign of the Lebanon Missouri Chiropractic Center:

An odd dual Hotel/Motel sign that used to be in Waco, Texas:

And I’ll add the Doggie Diner sign in San Francisco that was an obsession of Zippy the Pinhead cartoonist Bill Griffith:

When the Doggie Diner went out of business one of the iconic fiberglass doggie heads was moved to a median strip at Sloat Boulevard and 45th Avenue and deemed San Francisco landmark No. 254.

If only we could find a median strip for the rotating foot. Instead we might have to revive our efforts to call this place the Free Republic of Edendale. Some years ago I even came up with currency featuring the common neighborhood vista of a street mattress:

In all seriousness, our corrupt city government does a very poor job of placemaking. The best they can do is name intersections after people with pathetic little signs posted high up on a signal. You know you’re in trouble when a podiatrist sign is a better placemaking option. Paris LA ain’t. I think we’re going to have to take things into our own hands and build our own Happy Foot Sad Foot Arc de Triomphe. One we do that the People’s Parliament of the Free Republic of Edendale can get around to those much needed protected bike lanes . . .

Does your neighborhood have a distinctive and quirky sign? Leave a comment!