Giraffe sculptures no longer stand tall on Elaine Place

It's been a sad few days over on Elaine Place.

Condolences keep rolling in online, on EveryBlock, Facebook, Twitter.

"Good-bye my friends!" wrote one mourner. "Thank you for bringing enjoyment to our block all these years."

"I was hoping to have one last chance to go see them," wrote another.

"Now," sniffed someone else, "we are left to stare at ugly cement stumps."

There has been talk of a candlelight vigil.

Since 1978, two giant metal giraffes, constructed of automobile bumpers, have stood on one end of a short Lakeview block that would otherwise be hard to notice. The sculptures have served not only as art objects but as photo ops, climbing challenges, companions and navigation tools.

"I'll meet you at the giraffes," people would say.

The giraffes were multifaceted creatures. At Christmas, they might be mysteriously outfitted in holiday wear. During the annual nearby Pride Parade, one might don a rainbow-colored feather boa. At Halloween, a blond wig.

On Sunday, they vanished.

"I saw the giraffe on the back of a flatbed truck heading westbound on North Avenue at Damen circa 12:45 yesterday," an online giraffe watcher reported after they were hauled away.

The giraffes were the kind of clever, enduring quirk that makes people feel attached to a city, a dash of ingenuity that makes a neighborhood feel like more than a collection of interchangeable enterprises, and their departure has fueled anger at the real estate deal that caused it.

Milton Zale was part of that deal, and he's not happy either.

Nearly 35 years ago, Zale commissioned the giraffes, along with a nanny goat that sat at the other end of the block. As owner of most of the property on Elaine Place — rental buildings, a couple of parking lots — he wanted a special marker for his land.

He asked his friend John Kearney, known as Jack, to make him something. Two giraffes and a nanny goat were born.

"They were made to be there," Zale said Tuesday. "That was Jack's vision. It was more than just business."

In recent months, Zale, who is 70, negotiated to sell his Elaine Place properties to Chicago Apartment Finders. (No one there returned my calls.) He says he offered to leave the giraffes, no charge, as long he still owned them.

The reply, he says: No, we don't want the liability. What if kids climbed on the giraffes and fell?

He replied that they'd been there for 35 years without calamity.

The sticking point, it appears, is that neither buyer nor seller wanted to pay to insure the giraffes. So on Sunday, Zale had them removed. He and his wife went out to watch the cranes hoist the giraffes and the nanny goat onto the flatbed trucks. They commiserated with dismayed neighbors.

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