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Returning Elaine Place Giraffe Statues Will Cost $90,000

By Serena Dai | March 8, 2013 8:45am

LAKEVIEW — The figure is in: Two beloved giraffe statues that disappeared from Elaine Place last year will cost a total of $90,000 if somebody wants to return them to the street, the statue's owner said.

Giraffe statues made of steel car bumpers, by Chicago artist John Kearney, had been community landmarks on Elaine Place for 35 years until the apartments on the street were sold last fall. A liability disagreement between new owners Chicago Apartment Finders and former owner Milton Zale, who owns the giraffes, led to the statues suddenly being removed — sparking outrage among some locals.

The only way the long-necked creatures could return is if someone bought them at the appraised value and promised to return them to Elaine Place, Zale said. His appraiser valued each one at $45,000, for a total of $90,000, Zale said Thursday.

Zale said he received interest from people wanting to buy the statues after the uproar last fall but "nobody's getting back to me."

"I’d be real surprised if they would pay what they’re worth," he said.

The steel bumper nanny goat statue that also left the street in the fall was not appraised because nobody expressed interest in it, Zale said.

Art value is determined by factors including condition and the artist's sales track record but can also be impacted by the story behind the work, said art appraiser Alan Bamberger, author of three books on art buying and owner of artbusiness.com, an art buying and selling resource.

Kearney's last giraffe statue to be sold went for $20,000 to a private buyer about five years ago, according to Kearney's wife, Lynn — less than half of the price of the Elaine Place statues.

But an uproar can push up the art's value, Bamberger said. For example, a cookie jar might be worth only $100, but if Andy Warhol owned it, it could sell for $9,000, he said.

"If you buy the $20,000 statue, all you get is the $20,000 statue," he said. "But with the other ones, you get all this provenance."

Previously, Zale said members of the Northalsted Business Alliance expressed interest, but the group as a whole has not talked about contributing money since the fall, said Northalsted's executive director Jay Lyons. He said he could not comment on whether the figure was too high.

"It's possible," he said of contributing to the purchase of the statues. "But we've got summer events coming up — Pride Fest, Market Days and other things we've been focusing on. I couldn't say with any certainty what our disposition would be."

Justin Elliott, of Chicago Apartment Finders, has said that the company is prepared to contribute financially to any community effort to repurchase the statues. At the time, he said a potential price tag of $20,000 per statue, based on previous Kearney works, was "a big number." He did not return a call for comment.

If no one steps up with the cash and a promise of returning the statues to the street, Zale will keep the giraffes and put them in a museum until he decides what else to do, he said.

A restoration of the giraffes will be finished in one to two weeks, he said.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th)'s office also previously expressed interest in wanting to help return the statues. Messages to community outreach director Erin Duffy were unreturned.

"My guess is that it won’t happen," Zale said.