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Returning Giraffe Statues to Elaine Place Would Be Costly

By Serena Dai | November 27, 2012 6:34am | Updated on November 27, 2012 6:41am

LAKEVIEW — Returning two beloved giraffe statues to Elaine Place may cost more than $40,000, if the sale price of other figures by artist John Kearney is any indication. 

The shiny giraffe statues had been community landmarks for 35 years and were commissioned by Milton Zale, who owned apartment buildings overlooking them.

Zale recently sold the complex to Chicago Apartment Finders (CAF), which balked at assuming liability for the statues, which Zale had covered.

Now, the giraffes, along with a nanny goat statue that had stood nearby, are being refurbished in a West Side industrial building awaiting an appraisal — and, locals hope, a benefactor to buy them from Zale and return them to Elaine Place.

Kearney is a well-known sculptor with works across the city, including the Wizard of Oz statues in Lincoln Park's Oz Park.

The Elaine Place artwork will not be appraised for about a month, but prices for other Kearney statues suggest the price tag will be high.

Kearney's last giraffe statue to be sold — made of steel car bumpers like the Elaine Place models — went for $20,000 to a private buyer about five years ago, according to Kearney's wife, Lynn.

And the Tin Man, a Kearney steel bumper statue in Oz Park, was commissioned by the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce for $25,000 in 1995, according to Oz Park Advisory Council President Judy Johanson.

The value of art is determined by factors like condition, the artist's sales track record, and the quality of the artist's résumé, said art appraiser Alan Bamberger, author of three books on art buying and owner of artbusiness.com, an art buying and selling resource.

In this case, the uproar surrounding the statues could make the price tag even higher. "Not only does the owner have the sculpture, they have all sorts of newspaper articles and videos," Bamberger said. "With art, a lot of [the value] is about the story."

But Zale said he's not looking to make a killing on the sale.

"If anyone wants to buy them for the appraised value, I’m not going to gouge it," he said.

No one has come forward to buy the giraffe statues, but Zale said members of the Northalsted Business Alliance (NBA) have expressed interest, though NBA said it has not discussed purchasing them as an alliance. Alliance spokeswoman Jennifer Gordon said while the group has contributed to local projects in the past, it has never spent as much as $20,000 on a single project.

The office of Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has also been in touch with Zale to discuss returning the art, said Erin Duffy, the alderman's director of community outreach.

Community members want to raise the money, she said.

"They were a really iconic part of the neighborhood," Duffy said of the statues. "There's a lot of interest in trying to get them back."

The new owner would need to assume legal liability for the pair.

The complex's new owner, Justin Elliott of CAF, said he is ready to be a good neighbor and will contribute financially to community efforts to purchase the giraffes. 

He wouldn't discuss exact figures, but in response to the potential price tag of $20,000 a statue, he said, "That's a big number."