Missing in Lakeview: One goat, two giraffes

November 12, 2012

By Elliott Ramos and Alison Cuddy

After this weekend, residents of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood might notice something missing from their streets.

Two welded steel giraffes, stationed on opposite ends of Elaine Place and Roscoe Street, and a gleaming “nanny” goat on Elaine and Cornelia have been removed by their owner.

The three sculptures have been a staple of the neighborhood for almost three decades and were the work of Chicago artist John Kearney.

Kearney is known for using steel objects, mostly car parts, to create sculptures of animals. In Chicago, his work includes three deer in front of the Aon Center, two horses owned by the Chicago Park District and a collection of Wizard of Oz characters in Oz Park, including the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Dorothy and Toto.

The owner of the Lakeview sculptures, Milton Zale, also owned most of the buildings on the 3400 north block of Elaine Place, and sold them to a group of investors – sans sculptures.

Residents were not happy with the abrupt removal. Bret Beaudry said he was stunned when he found them gone and even thought, “Someone might have tried to steal them.”

George Eastman, who has lived on the street for 30 years, remembers when the giraffes were put up.

“They’ve been an icon in the neighborhood since they’ve been here,” Eastman said. “Kids love them. They’re right by the playground. I guess if they’re not coming back, we’ll miss them.”

On the residential forum site, EveryBlock, some were calling for the sculptures to be returned to the community.

One user, with the name Ann C., said she was "So sad to see those go! My husband used to take our daughter when she was a child to see them on their daily walks, she would always want him to pick her up so she could touch them."

The sculptures were familiar enough that they had their own FourSquare check-ins and were often festooned with seasonal decorations on Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, and during the neighborhood's Market Days festival and Gay Pride Parade.

“Around Christmas someone put a wreath around their neck or like Halloween, there was a wig on their head,” said Jack Wilhelm, who works at Roscoe’s on Halsted. He said the pieces “weren’t that pretty,” but he liked the way neighbors interacted with them.

Milton Zale, who owns Zale Management Company, commissioned the sculptures from Chicago artist John Kearney in 1978.

According to Zale, he offered to leave the animals in place “for no charge” so long as the new owners, who include Chicago Apartment Finders, kept the properties. But Zale said they had concerns about liability and asked him to remove the works.

Zale added that the group that bought the properties includes a large real estate interest out of Boston, Mass. “They don’t understand and they don’t care what we’ve done here.”

But Chicago Apartment Finders replied to concerns on EveryBlock saying it was Zale who "would not sell the statues or indemnify them and that is why they are no longer part of the property."

Justin Elliott of CAF says the investors didn’t know Zale would remove the sculptures and will “work with him to bring them back.”

That’s likely to be a more complicated transaction at this point. Zale says he plans to have the sculptures restored and appraised, after which he’ll be willing to sell them.

The sculptor, John Kearney, and his wife of 61 years, Lynn, say they were very upset to hear the sculptures had been removed. The Kearneys live further north in a house filled with sunlight and many of his sculptural pieces, including two life-sized bronzes of their daughter and son.

Lynn Kearney says they get emails every day from people who own her husband’s work, and “Everybody just loves them.”

Still, she didn’t seem surprised by the hubbub.

“You know sculpture is a funny thing,” she said. “I always say sculptors leave larger droppings (laughs). So, sculpture’s a challenge for people.”