After 60 years, the chicken is flying the coop. Pollardville Chicken Kitchen Restaurant & Ghost Town, a Highway 99 landmark halfway between Lodi and Stockton, will seat guests for the last time Sunday. Neil and Tracy Pollard are retiring, bringing down the curtain on a nearly 13-acre complex that lured motorists not only with fried chicken but dinner theater, train rides and tours of a veritable Mother Lode gold camp.
Anyone who drive Highway 99 couldn't miss it, principally because of an eight-foot chicken atop an 80-foot tower, wearing a black cowboy hat, hostered sidearm and vest. Another big chicken stood on the ground. The Pollards have until June 30 to get rid of everything. Thus, the complex's showboat is being converted into a temporary general store, where the town's antique furnishings and other memorabilia will be sold over the following two months.
The Pollards already have sold the 1897 brick jail from Jamestown, Tuolumne Co., and the 1928 post office from Mountain Ranch, Calaveras Co. They are to be dismantled, returned to their original communities and restored, says Neil Pollard. His father bought the wood post office, which at 6-feet-by-8-feet reputedly is the smallest post office in the country, about 1957 and had it moved to Pollardville. He did the same with the jail about 1964.
The Pollards themselves will end up at their second home in Mountain Ranch. So will one of the chickens. "My wife wants some memorabilia from the place," says Neil Pollard, unsure just where he will put the chicken. The other is being taken by the couple's daughter, who likely will move it to Lockeford, where she has one restaurant and is preparing to open another; it probably will end up at one of them, speculates her father.
"After June 30, whatever is left here will be bulldozed," says Neil Pollard, who sold the site to a developer last year. Homes are to be built on the property.
The restaurant will be open for the last time 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The kitchen will continue to operate for another couple of months, but for take-out only.
Neil Pollard's parents, Ray and Ruth Pollard, opened the original Chicken Kitchen in 1944 in Castro Valley. They moved to Stockton in 1946 and for the next 10 years ran the restaurant on the west side of Highway 99. In late 1957 them moved to the east side. "We closed one night over there and opened the next morning here," recalls Neil Pollard.