LAKE STEVENS — New York has the Statue of Liberty. Florence has Michelangelo’s David.
And Lake Stevens has a 7-foot-tall statue of a rooster outside the Chicken Drive-In.
Now, the downtown landmark might have to fly the coop, city officials say, because the fiberglass fowl violates the sign code.
Trisha Akerlund, who owns the drive-in, said she’d like to keep the big bird because it’s steeped in tradition. Generations of Lake Stevens High School seniors have made purloining the poultry a regular prank.
In fact, that’s a big reason why Akerlund — a fourth-generation Lake Stevens High School grad, class of 2002 — bought the downtown Lake Stevens drive-in in July, she said.
She keeps the chicken right in front of the building, where it’s easiest to heist.
“We just want to keep the tradition going,” she said.
But the city has told Akerlund she has until the end of the month to remove the rooster. Akerlund and the city have a meeting scheduled for Jan. 18 to discuss it.
The chicken is classified as a sign under city code and doesn’t meet the specifications, city administrator Jan Berg said.
It would be difficult for the city to make an exception for one business, she said. Still, officials are willing to work with Akerlund, Berg said.
“We’re sympathetic to the new owner coming into the situation,” she said.
The rooster is a new incarnation of the original. For years, a chicken stood atop the Hillcrest Drive-In near Frontier Village. That was outside city limits, in the unincorporated county area.
The drive-in closed several years ago and the new owner of the property stored the chicken in a warehouse in Eastern Washington, according to Frank McDaniel, owner of the downtown building that houses the drive-in.
During those years, the students would rent the rooster for as much as $500 in student funds and drive across the mountains to pick it up.
McDaniel opened the Chicken Drive-In in downtown last spring. Recalling the chicken tradition at the old restaurant in Frontier Village, he ordered a fiberglass rooster of his own, identical to the previous one.
The bird arrived from the Texas factory all white. Lake Stevens Auto Body painted the bird details red, blue and yellow.
When it was placed outside the new business, the city told McDaniel about its noncompliance. He received a temporary sign permit for the business’s grand-opening ceremony, but agreed to a stipulation that afterward the rooster would take flight. Instead, it stayed.
“I was going to go back and talk to (the city),” McDaniel said. “A lot of it’s my fault for not following through.”
Akerlund, McDaniel’s cousin, bought the business and rented the building from him last summer. He told her she might have to get rid of the chicken, but she was willing to take the chance, she said.
Meanwhile, the rooster was “stolen” three times this fall. A couple of times, students and parents even asked permission, Akerlund said. The bird stays gone for a couple of weeks at a time and is always brought back.
Its foundation is easily unbolted from the concrete, and it’s light enough for two people to lift, Akerlund said.
“I’m just like, ‘Go for it, it’s there for you to take,’” she said.
Akerlund is glad the city is willing to talk, but worries that an alternate solution would make it difficult or even dangerous for students to steal the chicken. She doesn’t want to put it on the roof or on top of a pole.
Lake Stevens grad Jamie Johns says the rooster is a big part of the culture of the high school. Each senior class steals the bird and trots it out in grandiose fashion.
In 2001, Johns, a drum majorette in the band, and her fellow seniors paraded a covered decoy chicken around the track of the football field at homecoming.
Little did the crowd know that the students had rented a crane to lift the real rooster over an adjacent church and onto the field, to the dramatic tune of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the Richard Strauss composition used in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” she said.
“Our mascot shouldn’t be the Viking,” Johns said. “It should be the chicken.”
Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.